Just when you thought it was safe to smoke marijuana in Oregon, along comes a new breed of law enforcement officer: the pot cop.

The pot cop can bust retailers for selling buds to people under 21—or even letting them inside a store. He runs stings on growers who aren't paying taxes. 

And if you're growing too many plants in your house, some fear the pot cop could seize your marijuana and take you to jail.

The pot cop doesn't exist yet—but the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has asked to greatly extend its power beyond what voters gave the agency in November when they approved legalized recreational marijuana.

State lawmakers are worried the OLCC is seeking power it doesn't need. Weed growers are concerned, too.

"The OLCC should be able to regulate licensees and not the general public," says Geoff Sugerman, lobbyist for the Oregon Cannabis PAC. "And that should be reflected in the enforcement powers they are given."

OLCC chairman Rob Patridge declined to be interviewed for this story. He has said the agency's new "peace officers" would carry out rules that mirror the authority the agency has over bars, liquor stores and even backyard keggers—even though the commission rarely exercises its full power.

"We don't want the agency to be a paper tiger when it comes to enforcing the law," Patridge, who is also the Klamath County District Attorney, said in January.

News of the agency's plan has been reported elsewhere. But the OLCC has run into growing opposition to its plans for a new police force—and the blowback shows tensions between the agency and state lawmakers it answers to.

"You could potentially have a marijuana enforcement agent knocking on someone's door to look at a home grow," says Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), a member of the House-Senate committee overseeing legal weed. "I don't think anyone on the committee would want them to have that broad of power.” 

Agency officials now say they are fine with power scaled back from their proposal.

"If they want to limit our authority to licensed premises, we're good," OLCC spokesman Tom Towslee tells WW. "We don't envision anybody from the OLCC busting anybody for having five plants instead of four. We have no conflict with the committee."

Lawmaker questions about the commission's police requests follow upheaval at the agency, and revelations its leadership was trying to increase its power over pot. 

The OLCC fired its "pot czar," Tom Burns, on March 26 after he leaked a memo to a lawyer for marijuana growers. WW reported that the memo showed top agency officials were engaged in talks with weed advocates about the commission taking over control of the state's medical marijuana system ("Burns Notice," WW, April 1, 2015).

The powers the agency seeks to police marijuana sales go beyond those it uses to regulate booze.

In March, the commission asked the Legislature for the power to fingerprint applicants for licenses, in order to conduct criminal background checks. That's something the agency does not currently do for liquor licenses, OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott tells WW.

The agency also requested the authority to keep minors from setting foot inside legal weed stores even when accompanied by an adult, and to require retailers to use ID scanners to verify the age of customers.

That raised an alarm with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "If enacted, these provisions will lead to a system where every purchaser of marijuana will have their ID card swiped at the time of purchase," ACLU legislative director Kimberly McCullough testified March 23.

OLCC spokesman Towslee now says the agency is unlikely to require ID scanners in weed shops.

At the same March 23 hearing, growers' lobbyists objected to the OLCC's police plan, arguing the state had no reason to monitor weed consumption when it hadn't legalized smoking pot in public places.

"Retail marijuana shops are more like liquor stores," Sugerman tells WW. "Not bars. The OLCC's enforcement powers should clearly reflect those differences."

The OLCC returned April 1 to the House-Senate committee to offer a scaled-back plan that would give its pot cops authority only over businesses licensed by the agency.

The hearing, held in the wake of Burns' firing, went poorly. Neither Patridge nor OLCC executive director Steve Marks testified. Instead, they sent staffers, who struggled to describe how the pot cop program would work.

"I tried to come and provide clarity on this issue, but it seems I'm only providing more questions," said Jesse Sweet, an agency policy analyst on marijuana, told the committee. "In practice, the OLCC is not out there going after moonshiners—although, technically, we have the authority to do so."

Lawmakers seized on the idea of limiting the agency's power. Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego), who co-chairs the House-Senate committee, questioned whether the commission already had too much authority in its liquor policing. 

Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) asked whether the agency should be placed in charge of marijuana at all.

"Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the OLCC staff," Ferrioli said, "my confidence in their ability to manage this program is rapidly diminishing.”