Portland Council Calls On Oregon's Top Prosecutor To Defend Cannabis

By Ryan Haas (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Jan. 10, 2018 12:04 a.m.

The Portland City Council wants Oregon's U.S. attorney to stand up to his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

On Monday, the council sent a letter to Billy Williams, asking him to protect Oregon's growing legal cannabis market — and by extension states' rights.


Related: In Pacific NW, Lack Of Clarity Looms After Sessions' Cannabis Decision

Sessions took action last week to rescind the Cole Memorandum, an Obama-era policy that gave states leeway to create legal cannabis markets.

"We strongly oppose any action from the Justice Department on cannabis enforcement that would subvert the will of voters in Oregon and other states," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the other city commissioners wrote in their letter to Williams.

They argued that "cannabis prohibition has failed" and should be left in the past.


"It has especially failed communities of color disproportionately targeted and prosecuted for low-level drug offenses," the council wrote.

Sessions has been a vocal opponent of drug legalization, calling his move to rescind the Cole Memo a "return to the rule of law."

In a statement last week, Williams did not say if his office would change its approach to prosecutions because of Sessions' direction. Instead, he said his office would continue to have "the diversion of marijuana out of state" and "dismantling criminal organizations" as its main priorities related to Oregon's market.

Related: Breaking Down The Regulatory Differences Among West Coast Cannabis Markets

The Portland City Council said they were "cautiously encouraged" by Williams' comments, but added that the job of regulating cannabis should be up to local government.

"Through state and local oversight, we can ensure that cannabis is safe for consumption and that it stays out of the hands of kids," the city leaders wrote.

Wheeler and his colleagues joined a chorus of West Coast politicians who have said they do not want the federal government to renew the War on Drugs.

Meanwhile, other leaders and cannabis supporters have said they think Sessions' move may backfire, leading to federal legalization of cannabis.