Workers harvest marijuana plants in a rural area near Corvallis, Ore., on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. (Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press)

Jeff Sessions’ letter to Oregon gov cites “pervasive illicit cannabis cultivation”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ marijuana-related missive to Oregon’s top official zeroed in on state police findings that cannabis legalization did little to cull black market activity, and took a similar tack to letters recently sent to other governors.

The Cannabist on Monday obtained a copy of Sessions’ letter addressed to Gov. Kate Brown, outlining his concerns about the effectiveness of Oregon’s marijuana regulatory system. Sessions’ correspondence, dated July 24, is in response to an April 3 letter from Brown and the governors of Alaska, Colorado and Washington — three other states that legalized sales of adult-use cannabis — imploring the Justice and Treasury departments to maintain the current enforcement guidelines established under the Obama administration.

Related: Sessions raises “serious questions” about Colorado’s marijuana management in letter to gov

The letter to Brown mirrored the language and structure of those received last week by the governors’ offices in Colorado and Washington; except in Oregon’s case, Sessions cited findings from an Oregon State Police report that noted “pervasive illicit cannabis cultivation in the state,” increases in emergency room visits and illegal trafficking.

The findings, Sessions said, raise “serious questions” about Oregon’s ability to protect public health and safety and to comply with the 2013 Cole Memo — Obama-era guidance that outlined federal enforcement priorities for police and prosecutors in marijuana matters.

Officials from Brown’s office and the Department of Justice were not immediately available for comment; a records request by The Cannabist for the letter Sessions sent to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is still pending.

The state police report found that Oregon’s regulatory regime fell short of complying with the Cole Memo, instead creating “an effective means to launder cannabis products and proceeds” with an estimated street value between $4.7 billion and $9.4 billion, according to the Oregonian/OregonLive, which first reported about a draft of the state police document in May.

The publishing of the police report prompted Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams to meet with state officials and law enforcement representatives to address the findings of overproduction, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported in June. The state officials’ presentation highlighted aspects such as tax revenue and the implementation of a seed-to-sale tracking system, according to the news report.

Officials said at the time they were working to address any holes in the system.

“We were already focused on it anyway but it gave extra oomph to ‘boy, we really need to do something about this leakage into the interstate black market,” Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, told the Oregonian/OregonLive.

Read Jeff Sessions’ letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: