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DOJ Crackdown on Pot Creates Uncertainty in Ore.

Oregon is one of eight states where the sale of recreational marijuana is legal. (Rick Obst/Flickr)
Oregon is one of eight states where the sale of recreational marijuana is legal. (Rick Obst/Flickr)
January 5, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Department of Justice announced Thursday it would crack down on marijuana, sending waves of uncertainty through Oregon's pot industry. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will rescind the so-called Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that de-prioritized prosecution of cannabis laws.

Oregon is one of eight states where pot is legal for recreational use. The majority of states allow the use of medical marijuana.

Madeline Martinez is executive director of Oregon NORML, a group that pushes for reforming cannabis laws. She says Sessions may find it hard to reverse Oregon's current course because taxes on the drug have created a large annual revenue stream.

"Eighty-five million dollars is quite a bit of money for our budget," she says. "So I don't think that's going to be able to be taken away from us very easily."

Oregon's Congressional leaders have criticized the announcement as an attack on states' rights.

Gov. Kate Brown noted legalization has been a boon for Oregon's economy, creating more than 19,000 jobs. Organizations such as Smart Approaches to Marijuana have praised the decision, saying it will cut off large investments to the industry and keep it from becoming like "Big Tobacco."

Martinez also is the first Latina board member of NORML's national organization. She says Sessions' move is an attempt to reignite the war on drugs and pursue what she calls "New Jim Crow" laws that put more people of color behind bars. She says that would also benefit the prison industry.

"To use marijuana patients and cannabis consumers in general as their low-hanging fruit to fill the prison system and take over with these private prisons," she explains.

Martinez says her organization has not made the progress it would like getting people with marijuana drug charges out of Oregon prisons. Sessions' rescinding of the Cole memo comes only a few days after recreational pot sales began in California.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR