OLCC Says It Fired Pot Czar Tom Burns for Leaking a Document, Then Lying About It

UPDATE: The leaked letter shows OLCC planning greater control of medical weed.

UPDATE, 4:45 pm: Documents released by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission show pot czar Tom Burns leaked a draft proposal about tightening the rules on medical marijuana to growers' lawyer Amy Margolis hours after he received it on March 23.

This afternoon, the agency released the draft proposal Burns leaked, along with the email Burns sent to Margolis, and the letter in which OLCC executive director Steven Marks fired Burns. The documents can be downloaded here.

The OLCC released all of these documents in response to a request filed by WW under Oregon records law.

The documents show that early this week, Burns and Marks were working on a plan to have the OLCC take control of large swaths of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, currently run by the Oregon Health Authority.

They wanted to gain support for the OLCC takeover from legislators on the "joint committee" on marijuana.

Burns and Marks were editing a draft proposal written by legal-marijuana advocates. Names on the document included Measure 91 chief petitioner Anthony Johnson. (Although his name was on the document, Johnson did not write it, and was not aware Marks and Burns were editing the proposal.)

Advocates wanted the OLCC's blessing to send the draft proposal to Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego), who co-chair the legislature's "joint committee" on marijuana.

The proposal argued that the OLCC should monitor medical growers (it currently does not) and allow those growers to sell buds in recreational stores that will likely be operational in the fall of 2016.

The draft proposal says that combining many parts of the two systems would cut down "leakage" from medical pot growers into the black market.

"The OMMP/OMMDP remains intact and all registry information stays with OHA," the proposal says. "However, all rules for testing, processing, packaging and labeling and all licensing for any such activities shall be vested in the OLCC in accordance with Measure 91."

Until Monday morning, Marks and Burns appeared to have been working in unison on editing the advocates' draft proposal. Marks sent a working draft to Burns at 9:42 am on Monday, March 23.

Electronic records show Burns forwarded it to Margolis, the lawyer representing growers, less than three hours later, most likely to get her input.

Sharing a proposal that might inform future legislation with a stakeholder is neither unusual nor illegal.  

But it was Burns' decision to send the draft proposal out of the agency's offices without informing Marks, that apparently drew Marks' ire.

OLCC officials say it was Burns deleting his email to Margolis—apparently to hide that he had let the draft proposal out of the building—that cost him his job.


Oregon Liquor Control Commission officials tell WW the agency fired pot czar Tom Burns for leaking an internal rule-making document to the lawyer representing weed growers, then deleting the relevant email and lying to his bosses.

OLCC spokesman Tom Towslee says Burns leaked the draft document to Amy Margolis, the attorney who founded Oregon Cannabis PAC, a political action committee that represents growers, processors and dispensaries.

Towslee says executive director Steven Marks showed Burns the deleted email on Thursday—and fired him on the spot.

"The decision to end Tom Burns' employment with OLCC started with his decision to share a confidential document outside the agency," Towslee tells WW. "When asked if he shared those documents, he was not truthful. When presented with the evidence, the actual emails that he sent out, his employment here was ended."

Towslee offered the reasons for Burns' firing following a records request by WW seeking written communications between Burns and Margolis.

WW has not yet been able to reach Burns for comment.

The document Burns allegedly leaked contained proposals for how to regulate the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program after the start of legal recreational weed in July.

Towslee says Margolis, the growers' attorney, was not at fault in the leak.

"She was just the recipient of a document, and she didn't do anything wrong," Towslee says. "Amy has no culpability in this."

Geoff Sugerman, the lobbyist for Oregon Cannabis PAC, says Margolis received a document from Burns—but Sugerman says it was not marked confidential.

"We have received nothing that we would considered internal or confidential," Sugerman tells WW. "The draft in question has been circulating around the capitol for at least a week, if not more. We just don't believe that anything given to us was indicated as internal or confidential."

At this morning's meeting of the OLCC, Marks declined to discuss his reason for firing Burns.

But Marks told WW the firing had nothing to do with personality conflicts inside the agency, or a larger dispute over the state's planned rules for recreational or medical weed.

"The decision I had to make had nothing to do with policy," Marks said. "Zero."

Marks fired Burns on Thursday, just three months after hiring him to run the OLCC's rule-making for recreational weed shops. Burns' work running the medical-marijuana program for the Oregon Health Authority made him one of the few high-ranking OLCC officials with any experience regulating pot.