Pubdate: Mon, 14 Aug 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press


In response, pot-legal states are trying to clamp down on "diversion"
even as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions presses for enforcement of
federal laws against marijuana.

Tracking legal weed from the fields and greenhouses where it's grown
to the shops where it's sold under names like Blueberry Kush and
Chernobyl is their so far main protective measure.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown recently signed into law a requirement that
state regulators track from seed to store all marijuana grown for sale
in Oregon's legal market. So far, only recreational marijuana has been
comprehensively tracked. Tina Kotek, speaker of the Oregon House, said
lawmakers wanted to ensure "we're protecting the new industry that
we're supporting here."

"There was a real recognition that things could be changing in D.C.,"
she said.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board says it's replacing its
current tracking Nov. 1 with a "highly secure, reliable, scalable and
flexible system."

California voters approved using a tracking system run by Lakeland,
Florida-based Franwell for its recreational pot market. Sales become
legal Jan. 1.

Franwell also tracks marijuana, using bar-code and radio frequency
identification labels on packaging and plants, in Colorado, Oregon,
Maryland, Alaska and Michigan.

"The tracking system is the most important tool a state has," said
Adam Crabtree, who runs Denver-based Nationwide Compliance Specialists
Inc., which helps tax collectors track elusive, cash-heavy industries
like the marijuana business.

But the systems aren't fool-proof. They rely on the users' honesty, he

"We have seen numerous examples of people 'forgetting' to tag plants,"
Crabtree said. Colorado's tracking also doesn't apply to home-grown
plants and many noncommercial marijuana caregivers.

In California, implementing a "fully operational, legal market" could
take years, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents the "Emerald
Triangle" region that's estimated to produce 60 percent of America's
marijuana. But he's confident tracking will help.

"In the first 24 months, we're going to have a good idea who is in the
regulated market and who is in black market," McGuire said.

Oregon was the first state to decriminalize personal possession, in
1973. It legalized medical marijuana in 1998, and recreational use in

Before that, Anthony Taylor hid his large cannabis crop from aerial
surveillance under a forest canopy east of Portland, and tended it
when there was barely enough light to see.

"In those days, marijuana was REALLY illegal," said Taylor, now a
licensed marijuana processor and lobbyist. "If you got caught growing
the amounts we were growing, you were going to go to prison for a
number of years."

Taylor believes it's easier to grow illegally now because authorities
lack the resources to sniff out every operation. And growers who sell
outside the state can earn thousands of dollars per pound, he said.

Still, it's hard to say if pot smuggling has gotten worse in Oregon,
or how much of the marijuana leaving the state filters out from the
legal side.

Chris Gibson, executive director of the federally funded Oregon-Idaho
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, said the distinction
matters less than the fact that marijuana continues to leave Oregon on
planes, trains and automobiles, and through the mail.

"None is supposed to leave, so it's an issue," Gibson told The
Associated Press. "That should be a primary concern to state

On a recent morning, Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney in Oregon, sat
at his desk in his office overlooking downtown Portland, a draft
Oregon State Police report in front of him. Oregon produces between
132 tons (120 metric tons) and 900 tons (816 metric tons) more
marijuana than what Oregonians can conceivably consume, the report
said, using statistics from the legal industry and estimates of
illicit grows. It identified Oregon as an "epicenter of cannabis
production" and quoted an academic as saying three to five times the
amount of pot that's consumed in Oregon leaves the state.

Sessions himself cited the report in a July 24 letter to Oregon's
governor. In it, Sessions asked Brown to explain how Oregon would
address the report's "serious findings."

Pete Gendron, a licensed marijuana grower who advised state regulators
on compliance and enforcement, said the reports' numbers are
guesswork, and furthermore are outdated because they don't take into
account the marijuana now being sold in Oregon's legal recreational

A U.S. Justice Department task force recently said the Cole Memorandum, 
which restricts federal marijuana law enforcement in states where
pot is legal, should be reevaluated to see if it should be changed.

The governors of Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska - where both
medical and recreational marijuana are legal - wrote to Sessions and
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in April, warning altering the
memorandum "would divert existing marijuana product into the black
market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our
neighboring states."

But less than a month later, Sessions wrote to congressional leaders
criticizing the federal government's hands-off approach to medical
marijuana, and citing a Colorado case in which a medical marijuana
licensee shipped pot out of state.

In his letter, Sessions opposed an amendment by Oregon Democratic Rep.
Earl Blumenauer and California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that
prevents the Justice Department from interfering with states' medical
marijuana. Congress is weighing renewing the amendment for the next
fiscal year.

In a phone interview from Washington, Blumenauer said the attorney
general is "out of step" with most members of Congress, who have
become more supportive "of ending the failed prohibition on marijuana."

"Marijuana has left Oregon for decades," Blumenauer said. "What's
different is that now we have better mechanisms to try to control it."

Taylor believes pot smuggling will continue because of the profit
incentive, which will end only if the drug is legalized across
America. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced a
bill in Congress on Aug. 1 to do just that.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt