“And make no mistake about it, we’re going to do something,” Williams told dozens of politicians, tribal leaders, sheriffs as well as representatives of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Williams’ remarks opened a summit to talk about cannabis in Oregon in the wake of a memo issued last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The memo marked a shift away from the Obama administration’s hands-off federal policy and opened the door for individual U.S. attorneys to get tougher on marijuana.
“Here’s what I know, in terms of the landscape here in Oregon: We have an identifiable and formidable marijuana over-production and diversion problem,” Williams said. “That’s the fact. My responsibly is to work with our state partners to do something about it.”
Members of the media were allowed to cover the summit’s opening remarks, but the bulk of the event was closed to the public.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who attended, said in her open statements that she’s committed to making sure the state has a “safe and successful cannabis industry.”
“Attorney Williams has insured my team that lawful Oregon businesses remain valued stakeholders in this conversation and not targets of law enforcement,” Brown said.
The meeting had a national draw, as individual U.S. attorneys struggle to define how — or if — to implement new direction from their boss, who has long criticized cannabis.
Fourteen different U.S. Attorneys offices from Massachusetts to California were represented, including several U.S. Attorneys from states like Colorado and Idaho.
“I view the attorney general’s memorandum as an opportunity,” Williams said. “This is an opportunity to engage with open minds. I suspect there are folks in the room who have differing views on marijuana since its been legalized here in Oregon. And my view of how to approach an issue that can be as divisive as this is to get in the same room and hear from each other.”
The Oregon summit comes as 30 states plus the District of Columbia allow for some marijuana use. On January 1, California became the eighth state to allow recreational marijuana. Later this year, Massachusetts is expected to start retail sales.
Williams said legalization in Oregon has hurt some property values in parts of the state. He also said he’s heard from people invested in the state’s legal market who are concerned about how black market sales are hurting their business.
“What I need are bottom line answers on what the numbers are,” he said. “We need to have an accurate assessment of the problems were looking at because its time to tackle it.”