'They could begin doing raids': Blunt federal change leaves Oregon in a haze on cannabis

FILE--In this Sept. 30, 2016, file photo, a marijuana harvester examines buds going through a trimming machine near Corvallis, Ore. The decision by Oregon voters to approve recreational marijuana was the No. 1 story of 2014 and putting into practice ranked No. 3 last year. It hit the Top 5 again in 2016 as communities grappled with ordinances to regulate the hours of operation and the locations of producers, processors, wholesalers, as well as retailers and medical marijuana grow sites. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, file)

EUGENE, Ore. - Travis Mackenzie isn't sure what a move Thursday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions means for his cannabis business.

"I've dedicated all of my resources and my life to doing this," said Mackenzie, who started TJ's Provisions 2 1/2 years ago.

Under Oregon law, TJ's can sell cannabis to consumers for recreational use.

The same isn't true for federal law.

"Cannabis is a schedule one drug," Mackenzie said. "Sale and distribution and production is illegal federally."

It's only thanks to state law and the Cole Memorandum that he's been able to sell marijuana at all.

The Obama-era memo directed federal prosecutors not to intervene in legal cannabis markets in states like Oregon.

"Our fears are that we could just literally be shut down," Mackenzie said Thursday.

State leaders are worried too. Oregon has a thriving marijuana economy, last year bringing in more than $60 million in state taxes.

In a statement, Governor Kate Brown said in part, "Over 19,000 jobs have been created by the market Oregon worked carefully to build in good faith and in accordance with the Cole Memorandum. The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance."

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, a candidate for the GOP nomination for governor, framed the issue as a matter of state rights.

State Treasurer Tobias Read echoed Brown's concerns in his own statement, in part: "The federal government should not attempt to disrupt our economy with this unnecessary action."

And state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum backing them up: "This is an industry that Oregonians have chosen - and one I will do everything within my legal authority to protect."

The thing is it's not up to them; Sessions is putting authority back in the hands of federal prosecutors like Oregon's U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.

Thursday he vowed to uphold public safety by stopping overproduction and out of state sale of marijuana, and by cracking down on crime.

“As noted by Attorney General Sessions, today’s memo on marijuana enforcement directs all U.S. Attorneys to use the reasoned exercise of discretion when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana crimes. We will continue working with our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners to pursue shared public safety objectives, with an emphasis on stemming the overproduction of marijuana and the diversion of marijuana out of state, dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities.”

There's still no word from his office on how this could affect growing, using and selling cannabis under Oregon's legal recreational market.

"It's possible that they could begin doing raids," Mackenzie said. "I mean they can do what they want, so we just kind of have to wait and see what happens."

For now, he says, it's business as usual - and he hopes for the best.

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