Although U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reopened the door to enforcing the federal prohibition on marijuana in Oregon, Pendleton marijuana entrepreneur Brandon Krenzler isn’t sweating it.
As Oregon’s top politicians issued terse statements condemning Sessions’ rescission of a 2013 Department of Justice memo that eased enforcement on states where the drug is legal, Krenzler, the co-owner of the Kind Leaf Pendleton marijuana dispensary characterized the decision as a “scare tactic.”
“I don’t find it to be very worrisome,” he said.
He said it will be “business as usual” at Kind Leaf, Pendleton’s first recreational marijuana retailer, and will proceed with plans to start Burnswell Family Farms, an affiliated cannabis grow recently approved by the city’s planning commission.
Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Obama-era policy, referred to as the Cole Memo, set out guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that had legalized marijuana to focus their resources on larger-scale concerns such as trafficking while continuing to rely on state and local law enforcement to act in accordance with state laws and regulations.
Sessions on Thursday said he would let federal prosecutors in each state decide where they would focus their enforcement actions, but that states that have legalized marijuana were not exempt from federal drug laws.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the Cole memo was “helpful guidance” for the state’s efforts to legalize marijuana and called its rescission an “overreach” by the current administration.
“I value my working relationship with (Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams) and I look forward to working with his office,” she said in a statement. “States up and down the West Coast, and beyond, have spoken. This is an industry that Oregonians have chosen — and one I will do everything within my legal authority to protect.”
However, it’s not clear that the announcement will lead to drastic changes in the way that federal officials in Oregon handle pot.
Williams said the memo directs U.S. attorneys to use “the reasoned exercise of discretion when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana crimes.”
“We will continue working with our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners to pursue shared public safety objectives, with an emphasis on stemming the overproduction of marijuana and the diversion of marijuana out of state, dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities,” Williams said in a statement Thursday.
Oregon’s political leaders were quick to speak out against Sessions and President Donald Trump.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement that her office would “fight to continue Oregon’s commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market.”
“States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people,” Brown said. “Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.”
Knute Buehler, the Republican front-runner for the governor’s race in 2018, also released a statement that the federal government should respect the will of Oregon voters.
“Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. “Now he’s breaking that promise so that Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade. Once again the Trump administration is doubling down on protecting states’ rights only when they believe the state is right.”
Krenzler said Sessions’ decision was a reaction to California’s recreational pot market opening on Jan. 1 and predicted there would be significant resistance if the federal government began enforcing the law against marijuana businesses.
In fact, Krenzler thinks Sessions scrapping the Cole memo could be a turning point for marijuana legalization, spurring Congress to take action and reverse the federal prohibition on cannabis.
“This is the official shots fired,” he said. “It’s time to change federal law.”
While marijuana was legalized across the state when Oregonians passed Measure 91 in November 2014, it was a full two years before Pendleton voters agreed to lift a ban on marijuana sales.
City staff have yet to publicly release revenue figures from Pendleton’s share of the marijuana tax and the local 3 percent tax, but Oregon has collected more than $60 million in tax revenue statewide, according to Rosenblum.
Pendleton City Manager Robb Corbett said it would be difficult to stop the marijuana markets already in motion without a protracted legal battle. Corbett said anything he would say beyond that would be “purely speculative.”
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.