Oregon Cannabis Businesses and Consumers Probably Won’t Be a Target For Federal Prosecutors

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams indicates little appetite for a cannabis crackdown.

A blunt and a beer. (Henry Cromett)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind the federal promise to allow states to decide how to regulate cannabis inspired outraged responses from local politicians this morning.

But prosecutions probably won't change much in Oregon.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams says his office will continue to focus enforcement on areas that had already been subject to federal laws before Sessions revoked the agreement known as the Cole memo.

The statement is vague, but indicates Williams has little appetite for a crackdown on Oregon's burgeoning pot industry.

"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 this afternoon.

Cannabis produced without the close oversight of state regulators could already be seized, and illicit growers were already subject to both state and federal prosecution under Oregon's laws. Likewise, taking cannabis over state lines carried hefty penalties.

Williams said that his office would be able to "use the reasoned exercise of discretion when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana crimes."

Professional cannabis growers and distributors, and the lawyers who represent them, believe that discretion will protect Oregon's state regulations on the recreational marijuana industry.

"People on the ground in Oregon are not panicking," says lawyer Bear Wilner-Nugent. "It's really just a stunt. I think it's a non-starter."

Growers and distributors see Sessions' move as an attempt to stunt the growth of burgeoning recreational cannabis industries in states like California—but they doubt it will work.

"This is a speed bump in the industry," Jesse Peters, the CEO of Eco Firma Farms, said in a statement. "There is no coincidence that this announcement came three days after California implemented sales to adults 21 and over. It is an attempt by the current administration to slow the flow of cash from investors."

A crackdown from federal prosecutors in Oregon would likely spark a widespread political backlash. And that has left many in the industry feeling secure despite the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

"The reality today is that each state needs to look to its own U.S. Attorney for guidance, and given that most U.S. Attorneys have political ambitions, many may be reluctant to buck public opinion, which is overwhelmingly in favor of legalized and regulated marijuana," said Perry N. Salzhauer a lawyer at Green Light Law Group.

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