SOS MARIJUANA AUDIT
Oregon’s marijuana program has failed to keep up with mandatory inspections, its weak testing system threatens to expose consumers to contaminants and regulators have done little to address black market diversion, according to an unsparing new audit from the Secretary of State released Wednesday. The audit represents the first detailed examination of Oregon’s regulation of the legal cannabis market since voters said yes to legalization in 2014, when supporters promised that state oversight would rein in an industry that had flourished for decades in the underground market. Auditors concluded that regulators have failed to meet even basic promises. It found, for instance, that just 3 percent of recreational marijuana retailers had been inspected and only about a third of growers. It said the state’s medical marijuana program, long a source of black market diversion both in the state and nationally, has “structural weaknesses” that “greatly increase the risk of diversion.” The audit also found an inadequate testing system. For years, Oregon has struggled with its pesticide testing regulations, which are intended to ensure that products meet certain standards before they land on retailers’ shelves. The state has since imposed tighter regulations, but the audit found that it lacks a way to verify the accuracy of test results. It also said that while the state requires certain tests for recreational cannabis, testing isn’t required for most medical marijuana. And while other states require tests for heavy metal and microbiological testing, Oregon does not.
Oregon’s system for regulating legal cannabis likely fails to prevent spillover to the black market, state auditors said Wednesday. That increases the risk that the state could be subject to more federal scrutiny, said Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, whose audits division released a report Jan. 30 on state regulation of cannabis. Oregon has two systems for legal cannabis: medical, which voters approved more than 20 years ago, and recreational, which Oregon voters supported in 2014. Auditors studied the controls on each program, finding there were significant gaps. While a growing number of states are legalizing cannabis, it remains illegal federally. State auditors waded into the fray this year, finding that state oversight is insufficient, particularly when it comes to medical marijuana. Additionally, they said, the state could improve testing of marijuana products to protect public health and should consider testing cannabis products for heavy metals and microbiological contaminants. It should also make sure labs that test cannabis are consistently accredited. The agency halted processing new recreational marijuana license applications in June so state officials could catch up on a backlog. Gov. Kate Brown wants to change state law to allow the OLCC to cap licenses based on market demand and other factors. The state doesn’t have as much authority to regulate medical growers’ activities, auditors said. And they found there aren’t enough inspectors of medical cannabis, there is high turnover among the inspectors the program does have, and money coming into the program through fees is dropping off.
Oregon’s system for regulating legal cannabis likely fails to prevent spillover to the black market, state auditors said Wednesday. That increases the risk that the state could be subject to more federal scrutiny, said Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, whose audits division released a report on state regulation of cannabis. Oregon has two systems for legal cannabis: medical, which voters approved more than 20 years ago, and recreational, which Oregon voters supported in 2014. Auditors studied the controls on each program, finding there were significant gaps. While a growing number of states are legalizing cannabis, it remains illegal federally. In early 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded previous federal guidance on cannabis that had allowed more leeway for state-legal programs during the Obama administration. Shortly thereafter, Oregon’s top federal prosecutor, Billy Williams, made headlines when he lambasted what he claimed was a rampant problem of diversion from the state, with tons of legally grown Oregon cannabis leaking across state lines and into the black market. State auditors waded into the fray this year, finding that state oversight is insufficient, particularly when it comes to medical marijuana. Additionally, they said, the state could improve testing of marijuana products to protect public health and should consider testing cannabis products for heavy metals and microbiological contaminants. It should also make sure labs that test cannabis are consistently accredited.
Oregon’s system for regulating legal marijuana has flaws that increase the risk of the drug entering the black market and leaving the state, a state audit found. The Secretary of State audit, released Wednesday, took a comprehensive look at the state’s regulatory framework for recreational and medical pot. It also found that the state needs to improve its laboratory testing requirements and increase oversight of licensed marijuana businesses. For example, the audit found the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates recreational marijuana, lags in business compliance inspections after they have an initial inspection for their license. Such inspections began in June 2018. As of October, the commission had only inspected 3 percent of 591 licensed retail shops — 16 locations. The audit underscores state regulators’ struggle to keep pace with Oregon’s pot industry. Since midway through last year, medical growers who produce weed for three or more patients have had to use the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s Cannabis Tracking System. Regulators said last year they would ask state lawmakers for additional tax money to help regulate medical marijuana. Some have floated the idea of creating an entirely new agency to regulate marijuana in Oregon, instead of having separate agencies split regulatory responsibilities. Others have proposed exporting Oregon weed to other states. Opponents called the audit proof that Oregon can’t control its pot industry.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown vowed Wednesday to find more money this year to lessen wildfire dangers and to push for a more aggressive firefighting response to reduce the devastating impacts of months of smoke on the region’s health and economy. “We will obviously be having conversations with the Legislature about more resources, particularly for this area,” Brown said. The governor made a number of stops in Medford Wednesday, including at the Medford Air Tanker Base, where she highlighted a $1.5 million grant to the Rogue Forest Restoration Partnership. It’s part of $6.3 million in grants to be used over the next few years to thin federal, state and private forests around six communities in Southern Oregon to help avoid the kind of wildfire that destroyed much of Paradise, California, last fall. “These fires are more ferocious, more fierce than we’ve seen before,” she said. Brown signed an executive order Wednesday that creates a council to find ways to improve the state’s response to wildfires. “Make no mistake, Oregon is a national model for fire response,” she said. Brown wants to increase harvest levels on federal land and strengthen the partnership with federal forest agencies, as well as support organizations that undertake forest thinning operations.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order Wednesday creating a new council that will examine the efficacy of the state’s response to wildfire. The Oregon Wildfire Response Council is charged with reporting their findings no later than Sept. 30. “We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can, that we are employing the best practices in the entire country, and that we are building support among all Oregonians for the sustainable funding needed to change this pattern,” Brown said. According to the governor’s office, the panel will look at “wildfire education, prevention, suppression, attack, and community recovery.” The governor announced the executive order in Medford. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners held a recent hearing where they heard concerns from residents about increasing smoke and forest and wildfire management. The general consensus from the public was that officials needed to be more proactive to protect communities. The governor announced a $1.5 million grant to the Rogue Forest Restoration Partnership. The money will be used by Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and partners to move forward with restoration and fuels management work in the region.
Just a week into the 2019 Legislature, unrest between Democratic and Republican legislators has surfaced over landmark legislation to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions. Legislators have been anticipating the environmental push as a major issue in the session, putting Oregon in the forefront of tackling carbon emission changes through government policy. The proposal could affect every Oregonians in many ways, increasing costs for things like gas and manufactured goods. On Monday, Jan. 28, Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, aired his grievances in a Portland Business Journal article, saying he had been shut out from crafting of the legislation despite being a vice chair of the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction. n Monday, House Republicans accused Democrats of hiding the bill, expected to become public Thursday. “From what I have heard from many people is that bipartisan ideas are the best,” Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, said in the Republican statement. “This should be a bill that is bipartisan for all Oregonians. Yet, the fact is, the bill has only been seen and written by one party. I think that one might need to simply say we don’t want your help in this bill.” Denbrow said no one is being shut out. He said a legislative attorney assigned to the legislation took a week off during the holidays and the process is taking longer than expected. The partisan divide comes just months after an election cycle that gave Democrats a three-fifths majority in the House and Senate as well as re-election of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. Republicans had warned that Democrats would act alone to push through major legislation. Democrats have promised continued work with their Republican colleagues.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
The troubling anecdotes have been piling up in the Capitol: open judgeships in southern Oregon that almost no one is interested in filling; massive stretches of highway left completely unpatrolled; poor defendants being unconstitutionally churned through the justice system. This year’s Oregon legislative session has been billed as an opportunity to find big money for health care and education, but in the first week of action, it’s been members of the criminal justice system making their case most strongly for more resources. The pleas, so far, have come from three entities very well acquainted with asking lawmakers for new resources when the session comes around, often with little result. But this year, with Gov. Kate Brown and members of the Democratic leadership highlighting their support, new money might well be on the way — if lawmakers can find it among an array of other big-ticket necessities. Oregon judges had a similarly plaintive plea for judiciary committee members nearly a week earlier, when Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters showed up to ask for higher pay and more judges. Judges have succeeded in getting $5,000 salary bumps from lawmakers in recent sessions, but their proposal this time around, House Bill 2238, would do far more. Oregon currently contracts for nearly 100 percent of the public defense services employed statewide — a marked difference from states that employ their own public defense attorneys. But what makes Oregon’s system so concerning, a report from the nonpartisan Sixth Amendment Center recently found, is that it pays for those services by shelling out a flat fee for every case a contractor takes. Lane Borg, executive director of the Office of Public Defense Services, says he’s not sure how far the Legislature might get in righting the ship this session. At a minimum, he’s hoping for a mandate to both improve transparency in the public defense system and re-work the pay structure to something more suitable.
Oregon’s senior U.S. senator on Wednesday formally requested that the FBI turn over any information it has about multiple cases where students from Saudi Arabia vanished while facing criminal charges in the state. Sen. Ron Wyden asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if his agency has any evidence that the Saudi government provided assistance to the suspects at the center of an Oregonian/OregonLive investigation as well as any other Saudi national charged with crimes in the U.S. The Oregonian/OregonLive has revealed criminal cases involving at least five Saudi nationals who disappeared from Oregon before they faced trial or completed their jail sentence. They include two accused rapists, a pair of suspected hit-and-run drivers and one man accused of having with a trove of child pornography on his computer. In at least four of those cases, the Saudi government paid the defendant’s bail and legal fees. Wyden, a Democrat, said he’d like a response by Feb. 8. His letter comes a day after he prodded the FBI director during an open hearing by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that brought the nation’s intelligence chiefs to testify before lawmakers.
Winegrowers in southern Oregon faced financial ruin after a California winemaker claimed wildfire smoke tainted their grapes and refused to buy them. Now, the rejected fruit that was turned into wine by local vintners is facing another setback. Two Oregon wineries stepped in to buy the grapes, but getting the Oregon Solidarity wines they produced to markets on time is in doubt because the federal agency that approves labels has a huge backlog, a hangover from the government shutdown. Nationwide, makers of alcoholic drinks face disrupted business and lost revenue. If another shutdown starts in about two weeks, as President Donald Trump has threatened if Congress doesn’t provide money for a border wall, the backlog could persist. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Oregon Democrats, warned of “disastrous” consequences in a letter to John Manfreda, administrator of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. They urged Manfreda to dedicate all resources to clearing the backlog of applications. Retailers are counting on having the wines and to do promotions, she said. The wines will be sold nationwide and will be available to buy online. Rogue Valley Vintners, a southern Oregon nonprofit made up of wine producers, growers and community partners, will get the proceeds.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Restaurants across Oregon would be forbidden from handing out single-use plastic straws without a customer’s request, under several bills that lawmakers are considering this year. If passed, the policy could make Oregon just the second state in the nation to regulate plastic straws statewide, after California passed a law last year. But lawmakers first need to answer some big questions. As Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, put it during a committee hearing on Tuesday: “Who do we follow, California or Portland?” A bill currently before the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee would make it illegal for any restaurant to give customers a plastic straw without first being asked — a policy that resembles a wider-ranging ordinance passed by Portland City Council late last year. Breaking the law would be punishable by $25, with a $300 yearly limit on penalties. But an amendment to the bill introduced by state Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, would pare the law down, ensuring it applies only to full-service restaurants — not fast food. That’s akin to California’s law. And in a twist that concerns environmental groups and Portland city officials, the amendment would pre-empt any city in the state from enacting its own rules for drinking straws. That would take precedence over Portland’s policy, sharply decreasing the number of restaurants regulated in the city.
Renters, sick of forking over extra fees to cover pets, could soon see some relief. The newly proposed Oregon House Bill 2683 “prohibits landlords that allow pets from charging tenants additional rent or fees based on possession of pets.” In other words, if passed, it would ban the practice commonly known as “pet rent.” Christian Bryant is the president of the Portland Area Rental Owners Association. He said property owners charge pet rent to cover general wear and tear that builds up over time. That build-up is faster, he said, in units that house pets. “Normal wear and tear is something that you can’t use deposit funds for, and so that’s where, if you’re a landlord who decides to accept pets for your rentals, you need to be conscious of the fact that you’re going to be replacing your carpet probably a couple years before you would if you only had tenants that didn’t have pets,” Bryant said via Skype Wednesday. Some commenters on social media worried the bill, if passed, would backfire on tenants, prompting landlords to ban pets from their properties altogether or raise rents across the board. Bryant said that could easily happen. “I would definitely say so,” he said. “The reality is with all the changes going on at the state level, and especially if it’s a landlord that owns properties in Portland because they have a lot of changes happening there… landlords as a group are starting to get pretty reactionary.” The bill’s chief sponsor is Rep. Rob Nosse, a Democrat from Portland.
Most people who testify at the Capitol bring slide presentations, graphs or official letterhead to make their point. State Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, brought a breast pump as she talked in support of her proposals to give women more latitude to be working mothers. Nursing mothers use the device, which resembles a handheld fan but with a suction cup where the blades would be, to pump and store breast milk when they can’t directly feed their babies. Power wanted to show her colleagues why nursing moms should get dedicated breaks during the work day to pump. Under current law, Oregon workers at firms with 25 or more employees are allowed one half-hour break every four hours. Power’s bill — House Bill 2593 — would match the state with federal law, which doesn’t limit pumping breaks. It would also require all employers, regardless of size, to provide breaks for pumping milk. Employers wouldn’t have to pay workers during those breaks beyond the time an employer is required to provide paid rest periods. Waiting too long between pumping sessions or feedings can be painful and lead to serious infections, Power said. And she said many women can work while pumping — whether it’s working on a legal brief or driving a truck. Through a separate bill, HB 2341, Power also wants the state to require more employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” to pregnant workers. That could mean a chair for a cashier who usually must stand, or light duty for a worker who can’t lift heavy items, or more frequent breaks to use the bathroom. Right now, Oregon salaried workers at firms with fewer than 25 employees don’t have a legal right to such accommodations. “I can go ahead ask my employer for that without things going horribly south and be worried about losing my job,” Power said of her proposal. Under Power’s bill, employers who would face “undue hardship” to accommodate pregnant workers wouldn’t have to comply.
Last week, members of the Parkrose High School girls’ basketball team had racist remarks hurled at them during a game against St. Helens High School. The girls and their coach, who spoke to FOX 12 about the harassment, say St. Helens fans called the athletes the n-word and made monkey noises at them before and after the game. On Tuesday, Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) shared the incident with colleagues during a chamber meeting in order to spark discussions on how the Legislature can address and protect people from bias crimes. “Colleagues, I’ll start with a quote: ‘The Parkrose school community, students and families deserve better and should expect a welcoming environment, free of racist comments, when they attend events. Disrespectful language and behavior does not represent the teachings of the St. Helens School District. I am personally mortified and embarrassed by the bigoted actions of those involved. It is upsetting that the ignorance of a few reflects on our entire community. If we stand silent in the presence of racism, we are culpable.’
Portland’s City Council has prepared a resolution that recognizes the city’s “racist governing history” and condemns “White Supremacist and Alt-Right Hate Groups.” The resolution states the city “will not tolerate hate in any form” and will commit to training all city employees on the history and effects of white supremacist ideology and how to identify it. Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement that Portland has become a place where people “are now emboldened to express hate, spread fear and do harm against those who simply do not look like them.” Far-right activists with the group Patriot Prayer and their white nationalist allies the Proud Boys last held a planned event in Portland in October of last year. The most serious violence linked to their 2017 and 2018 rallies included fistfights and beatings with improvised weapons between far-right and far-left rallygoers. The mayor and all four city commissioners sponsored the resolution, an “extremely unusual” step that Schmanski said speaks to the council’s unity on the issue and “the shared urgency we feel about sending an unequivocal message.” The resolution, first reported on by the Portland Mercury, notes racist actions taken by previous officials in city and state posts. It cites as examples Oregon’s entry to the union as a whites-only state, legislators’ initial refusal to ratify constitutional amendments extending equal protections to all people and ending slavery, Portland’s practice of displacing black residents and a “history of bias” on the part of police officers.
Residents got their first look at possible alternatives to track alignments and the location of a final Bridgeport Village station as part of a “Bonita to Bridgeport” open house Jan. 24, part of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project. TriMet representatives unveiled those proposals to a packed house held in the community room at Tigard Public Library. Last fall, TriMet came up with a locally preferred alternative for the new rail line, a 12-mile route that begins south of the Portland Transit Mall, travels through Tigard and is expected to end in the Bridgeport Village area. However because of public response regarding the project’s Draft Environmental Statement, the Southwest Corridor project team sought two potential adjustments to the line between Bonita Road and the Bridgeport Village area, according to TriMet officials. As a result, TriMet is working with a plan to elevate the tracks over Upper Boones Ferry Road as part of the locally preferred alternative. However, those elevated tracks would result in significant more costs and impacts so TriMet is offering the possibility of building a shorter bridge over Boones Ferry Road but via Southwest 74th Avenue.
The Salem City Council showed few signs of advancing a proposal to build a third traffic bridge over the Willamette River following a roughly two-hour fact-finding meeting Wednesday night. Councilors questioned officials on topics ranging from the displacement of nearby businesses and residences that would likely have to move to make way for the bridge to how to pay for the proposal. To the costs, options on the table are a property tax, a gas tax, a vehicle registration fee and tolls. But the mix of those revenue generators would likely be determined after councilors decide to move forward with the bridge proposal. A consequential vote is poised to come as early as Feb. 11, when the council could either advance the proposal, signaling to other involved agencies they’re committed to building the crossing, or essentially let the bridge proposal crumble. The issue before councilors is completing final environmental impact statement for the bridge. That would likely result in the Federal Highway Administration issuing what’s called a “record of decision” to either build or not build the bridge. Part of completing the impact statement involves Salem responding to issues raised in 2017 by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, according to the city report. Problems raised by the board, such as the use of a wrong population estimate, put the brakes on the project.
Around the end of each year major dictionaries declare their “word of the year.” Last year, for instance, the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster.com was “justice.” Well, even though it’s early, I’m ready to declare the word of the year for 2019. The word is “deep.” Why? Because recent advances in the speed and scope of digitization, connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence are now taking us “deep” into places and into powers that we’ve never experienced before — and that governments have never had to regulate before. I’m talking about deep learning, deep insights, deep surveillance, deep facial recognition, deep voice recognition, deep automation and deep artificial minds. Around 2007, we took another big step up. The iPhone, sensors, digitization, big data, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing melded together and created a new platform that was biased toward abstracting complexity at a speed, scope and scale we’d never experienced before. So many complex things became simplified. Complexity became so fast, free, easy to use and invisible that soon with one touch on Uber’s app you could page a taxi, direct a taxi, pay a taxi, rate a taxi driver and be rated by a taxi driver. Over the last decade, these advances in the speed of connectivity and the elimination of complexity have grown exponentially. Because as big data got really big, as broadband got really fast, as algorithms got really smart, as 5G got actually deployed, artificial intelligence got really intelligent. So now, with no touch — but just a voice command or machines acting autonomously — we can go so much deeper in so many areas. But deep trust and deep loyalty cannot be forged overnight. They take time. That’s one reason this old newspaper I work for — the Gray Lady — is doing so well today. Not all, but many people, are desperate for trusted navigators. Many will also look for that attribute in our next president, because they sense that deep changes are afoot. It is unsettling, and yet, there’s no swimming back. We are, indeed, far from the shallow now.
Portland Public Schools needs a clear-eyed disrupter to immediately address a five-alarm fact: Our city’s historically-underserved students with the highest-needs are still not getting the education they deserve. According to a recent Secretary of State audit, roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of the district’s African-American students did not meet grade-level standards on 2017-18 achievement tests. The failure to provide long-range and real-time equitable solutions for our kids is systemic, larger than any one superintendent, school board, administrator, teacher, teacher’s union or parent group. In order for us to close the achievement gap together, Oregon needs to fully fund our schools after years of disinvestment — and we need to ensure those hard-earned dollars are inextricably tied to outcomes. Portland Public Schools could do this by embedding a permanent change agent within the district. An equity reform team headed by a chief equity officer – fulfilling a greater vision than in its previous incarnation – could provide a constant through line for transformation, ensuring that the district equity policy adopted eight years ago becomes an effective, meaningful document.