by Deborah Steele Hazen
Fifteen years after Oregon legalized marijuana for medical use, the state - for the first time and because of the passage earlier this year of House Bill 3460 – is trying to figure out how to regulate what has been an unchecked and growing retail industry.
A committee comprised of state officials, law enforcement personnel, lawmakers, dispensary owners, advocates and lawyers met last week in Salem to explore rules regarding how to ensure security, how marijuana should be transferred from growers to dispensaries, and how the drug will be tested for impurities – one of the law’s requirements.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north – Washington - and the state of Colorado have passed laws legalizing the consumption and sale of marijuana for adults over 18 for recreational use.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board has been crafting regulations to administer the sale of marijuana since last December. It recently approved another round of changes to the regulations, and will hold hearings in early October in Spokane and Seattle. The 43 pages of rules could receive a final okay on Oct. 16, and if so, then the board will begin accepting license applications for one month, then start reviewing them.
It is estimated it will take another nine months before anyone can legally buy recreational marijuana in Washington state. Marijuana users and sellers should take note of that.
Also, the United States Department of Justice announced in late August that it would not seek to challenge the Washington and Colorado laws. That announcement prompted a statement by U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall, headquartered in Portland, which we found interesting and encouraging, since we share her belief that the use of marijuana – similar to any other mind-altering substance – creates a public health and safety problem.
Here is the U.S. Marshal’s statement:
“Marijuana poses a significant risk to public health and its cultivation, distribution, and possession remains illegal under federal law. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, and will use its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats posed by illegal drug trafficking.
“Today’s (Aug. 29) updated guidance memo from the Department reiterated eight priority areas related to enforcing federal marijuana laws:
“1. Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
“2. Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal organizations, gangs, and cartels;
“3. Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
“4. Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
“5. Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
“6. Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
“7. Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
“8. Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
“Here in Oregon, federal prosecutors will remain aggressive when it comes to protecting these eight federal enforcement interests. That means exercising their prosecutorial discretion to investigate and prosecute individuals who infringe against any of these stated federal interests, regardless of state law.
“Outside of these stated priorities, we will continue what we have been doing since the passage of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, relying on state and local authorities to address lowerlevel or localized marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws.
“Having looked at the marijuana cases we have prosecuted in this district in the past two years, including all of our open cases involving marijuana cultivation, delivery or possession, we can certify that every case involves at least one, and in most cases more than one, of the eight federal priorities. So, this really doesn’t change anything for the way we do business at the U.S.Attorney’s Office in Oregon.
“The Department expects that states that have legalized the use of marijuana, whether for medical purposes or otherwise, will establish and enforce strict regulatory schemes that protect the eight federal interests identified in the Department’s guidance. These schemes must be tough in practice, not just on paper. They must include strong, state-based enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding. We will take a ‘trust, but verify’ approach.
“In other words, as long as the state follows through in imposing strict controls regulating marijuana-related conduct, it is less likely that any of the Department’s eight enforcement priorities will be threatened and federal action will be less necessary. But if any of the stated harms do materialize – either in spite of a strict regulatory scheme, or because of the lack of one – federal prosecutors will act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions and may challenge the regulatory scheme themselves.”