SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon sheriff and district attorney blasted efforts to regulate legalized marijuana, saying Tuesday the state is allowing black market operations to proliferate.
The issue is especially sensitive because U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently allowed federal prosecutors more leeway to pursue federal anti-marijuana laws in states like Oregon that have legalized pot. The top federal attorney in Oregon, Billy Williams, earlier this month said Oregon produces more marijuana than it consumes, with the overproduction feeding the black market. He urged locals to address the problem to avoid a possible crackdown.
Marijuana grow sites have flourished in many parts of the state, including in Deschutes County, Oregon's fastest-growing county which sprawls over high desert and the snowy peaks of the Cascade Range.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel and Sheriff Shane Nelson announced charges stemming from an illegal grow site that deputies discovered accidentally — and sharply criticized state regulatory efforts as basically nonexistent.
"Our state has no regulation for the marijuana industry," Nelson said at a news conference in the district attorney's offices in Bend.
"In order to have regulation an agency has to have enough resources to be effective at enforcement of the regulations. Oregon does not have this."
The Oregon Health Authority, which regulates medical marijuana, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday's assertions. Mark Pettinger, a spokesman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates recreational marijuana, noted the agency depends on the Legislature for funding for marijuana enforcement.
Hummel and Nelson complained in a Feb. 7 letter to the health authority that local law enforcement officers often can't tell whether medical marijuana grow sites are legal or illegal because the agency hasn't provided a list of authorized sites.
"Unfortunately, our hands are often tied when it comes to enforcing manufacturing and cultivation laws," they wrote to Carole Yann, the agency's manager of the medical marijuana program. They asked for a list of all registered medical marijuana grow sites in Deschutes County, but said they have not received a response.
Hummel told reporters the health authority conducted no inspections in Deschutes County in 2017, and said it is "ridiculous" that the agency provides a 10-day written notification of an inspection to growers.
Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the health authority, said it is reviewing the letter and plans to respond soon. He confirmed that a 10-day notice is given for routine inspections but that for "complaint inspections," staffers may make an unannounced visit.
In the news conference, Nelson complained that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has only 23 inspectors for more than 1,200 marijuana grows and retail outlets.
"Citizens must demand that the governor's office increase and fund more inspectors," he said.
In a telephone interview, Pettinger said additional inspectors from the commission would soon staff a new office in southern Oregon co-located with the Oregon State Police, and that the ratio of Oregon's inspectors is similar to some other states.
The sheriff said he respects voters' wishes to legalize marijuana in Oregon but threatened to try to halt the establishment of marijuana grows.
"I have taken a stance. No more recreational commercial marijuana grows in Deschutes County," Nelson said.
"The state needs to take a time out and assess the oversupply that is more than likely going into the black market."
County officials are concerned that the state will impose land use regulations for marijuana on the county, Nelson said, adding: "The state has no business in determining that."
Hummel said he is going to "work within the system" but that if the health authority doesn't provide a list of licensed growers he may speak with Gov. Kate Brown or lawmakers about further action.
Taking a back seat in the news conference was the announcement of criminal charges against Blake Pyfer, 27, of La Pine.
Hummel said deputies were searching with a warrant for a stolen snowboard in Pyfer's home when they found 98 mature marijuana plants growing in a room and 63 immature marijuana plants in a separate space. He is charged with unlawful manufacture of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana.
Hummel said Pyfer is a medical marijuana patient and was an authorized grower for one other patient, meaning he could legally possess 12 mature plants and 24 immature plants.
Pyfer, contacted through Facebook, said he had no comment.