Oregon just punked Jeff Sessions for citing a bogus pot study

This is the formal correspondence equivalent of a reporter answering trolls with “did u read the article tho?”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
 CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Attorney General Jeff Sessions. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Last spring, a leaked report from the Oregon State Police gave marijuana legalization advocates a chill — and drug warriors like Attorney General Jeff Sessions a boost.

The state’s systems for tracking legally grown recreational marijuana were an abysmal failure, the report said, with huge quantities of the cannabis produced in the state funneling out to black-market dealers in states that hadn’t yet legalized the crop.

Even under prior Attorneys General who don’t share Sessions’ ardent, retrograde views on pot, this was trouble. Such interstate trafficking problems are one of the few surefire ways to get the federal government to crack down on your legalization experiment under existing Department of Justice guidelines commonly referred to as the Cole Memorandum.

Sessions pounced, though not with the alacrity observers had expected. In a July 24 letter to Gov. Kate Brown (D), Sessions cited the state troopers’ report in detail and laid groundwork for a federal intercession into the state’s blooming legal pot trade. A long-deferred legal showdown over conflicting federal and state law on the drug seemed nigh.

But there’s just one snag: The report is bogus.

“The Oregon State Police determined that the draft report required significant additional work and revision, because the data was inaccurate and the heavily extrapolated conclusions were incorrect,” Brown wrote in a reply to Sessions on Tuesday. “I would draw your attention to the sources relied upon in the document, which include an assortment of random blog and newspaper articles that should hardly form the basis of an informed policy discussion.”


Brown points out that Oregon’s legal market actually only came online that same month, governed by the same kind of high-tech “seed-to-sale” tracking systems present in other states keen to stay on D.C.’s good side. She notes that the state’s older medical pot system was moved onto that same intense tracking regimen in May.

Where Brown’s explanation of Sessions’ error in latching onto the false report is gentle and patient, the previous correspondence she attaches from Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton is blunt.

Hampton’s staff “attempted to make clear the document was not accurate, not validated, outdated and the Oregon State Police did not endorse the conclusions in the draft” when it first leaked to the press in March, he wrote to Sessions on August 16. “Unfortunately, you sourced the same leaked draft document as evidence against Oregon’s marijuana regulatory structure.”

Sessions either hasn’t noticed for five months that the information he based his threats to Oregon on was already disavowed by its law enforcement authors, or willfully cherry-picked a damaging slate of falsehoods to create a toehold to interfere with Oregon’s marketplace.

Oregon is the third legalization state to call out Sessions since his initial round of eerie letters went out this spring. Washington and Alaska officials levied similar responses a week earlier. “Both states note that the data Sessions utilized when discussing their state’s respective regulatory regimes is out of date and incomplete,” The Cannabist reported after obtaining copies of the letters. Colorado officials have not yet replied.


But getting triple-roasted on his dishonest portrayal of state regulatory systems won’t necessarily stop Sessions from sending in the cavalry. He has long been impervious to facts about marijuana, exaggerating the drug’s dangers and refusing to entertain the growing body of evidence that it is a more effective and less harmful pain remedy than the heroin-lite pharmaceuticals marketed to doctors and patients for the past three decades.

Sessions says his policy decisions on marijuana are being guided by a secretive task force he created to study various criminal enforcement issues. That group was expected to make its recommendations – both to Sessions and to the public – in late July.

No such report was ever published. Sessions did not tout the group’s findings. A few reporters who obtained but did not release draft versions of the recommendations said they largely continue the Obama-era policy of non-interference with legal state markets that do not violate the Cole Memo.

If that is indeed the counsel Sessions received from the group, he is likely disappointed. With legalization on the march during his Senate tenure, Sessions used Judiciary Committee hearings on pot prohibition to decry that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” During his national speaking tour as the nation’s top cop, he’s repeatedly rebuked legalization experiments and mocked the idea that pot could be a valuable tool in the campaign against opioid addiction.

Yet the numbers don’t lie. Legal, recreational, adult-use cannabis is already a multi-billion-dollar industry even with less than 10 percent of the U.S. population currently living in states with an operational marketplace. Legalization states have seen huge tax revenues and significant job growth from pot, begun cashing in large savings from reduced criminal justice system spending, and watched the black markets in their states shrink precipitously.


The early returns from legalization have already caught the attention of other states. By the end of 2018, the share of the American populace living in states where buying and selling pot is legal and closely regulated will have more than doubled.