PORTLAND — The black market for marijuana is thriving in Oregon and an oversupply of weed from growers is flowing to more than two dozen states where pot remains illegal, a top federal law enforcement official said Friday.
U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said the state has a “significant overproduction” problem and that he would prioritize enforcement of overproduction, interstate trafficking, organized crime and cases involving underage marijuana use and environmental damage from illicit pot farms.
The comments, which echoed those he made earlier this year, were included in a memo that outlines his plans for enforcing federal drug laws in a state with legalized marijuana. Williams is the first U.S. attorney to issue such guidance after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance on pot-friendly states in January.
“As the primary law enforcement official in Oregon, I will not make broad proclamations of blanket immunity from prosecution to those who violate federal law,” he wrote.
Sessions asked federal prosecutors to determine marijuana policies for their districts, prompting Williams to convene a summit in Portland earlier this year to discuss the state’s oversupply problem. At the time, Williams penned an editorial that described a glut of marijuana making its way out of the state illegally and called for action by local and state leaders.
Those in the marijuana industry reacted with cautious optimism to the memo and said it didn’t seem to change federal marijuana policy in Oregon.
“I think that’s already what law enforcement was focusing on, and we need to crack down on the illegal grows out there, which is not good for the legal market either,” said Brent Kenyon, who runs a consulting business that helps entrepreneurs set up pot businesses.
“I applaud him for not wasting any taxpayer dollars on trying to mess with the legal system as it’s set up.”
The state has nearly 1 million pounds of marijuana flower in inventory, a staggering amount for a state with a population of 4.1 million people. That doesn’t include 350,000 pounds of marijuana edibles, tinctures and concentrates.
The retail price for a gram of pot has fallen about 50 percent since 2015, from $14 to $7, according to a report by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Legal growers and retailers have felt the sting.
The amount of marijuana leaving the state is hard to pin down, said Beau Whitney, a senior economist at New Frontier Data, a national cannabis analytics firm.