OLCC pot crackdown is a welcome move

Plans to open a Medford office dedicated to investigating black-market marijuana operations in Southern Oregon are a good sign for the fledgling recreational pot industry, and responsible growers and retailers should welcome the move.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has announced it will open an office next February that will house OLCC and Oregon State Police investigators. Funded with the OLCC's share of marijuana taxes, the office will investigate reports of growers and others illegally diverting marijuana out of state or operating growing operations that are not registered with the state as required by law.

Oregon is among a handful of states that have legalized the sale, use and possession of recreational marijuana by adults. As long as the drug remains illegal in most states, it will command far higher prices on the interstate black market than in those states where it is legal. And as long as that is the case, the lure of massive profits will attract people who want to pose as legitimate growers to cash in.

At the same time, because marijuana remains illegal for all uses under federal law, states that have legalized it run the risk of federal authorities cracking down. The Obama administration took a hands-off approach to that issue, while warning that states that did not aggressively act to prevent interstate trafficking would invite federal scrutiny. A 2013 memo to U.S. attorneys from then Deputy Attorney General James Cole, since referred to as "the Cole memo," laid out that policy, warning that states that did not maintain a "strong and effective state regulatory system" would be more likely to see federal enforcement actions against marijuana activities within their borders.

The Cole memo remains in effect, although Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his opposition to marijuana legalization and has taken steps to revive some of the more aggressive elements of the war on drugs, including supporting cash and property seizures in drug cases and toughening charges against nonviolent drug offenders. It's still not clear whether Sessions' Justice Department will be more likely to target state-licensed marijuana businesses, but even the Cole memo doesn't rule out more aggressive enforcement.

Given those realities, Oregon officials are wise to aggressively target black-market operators and unlicensed growers, and members of the marijuana industry who are playing by the rules should support that effort.

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