MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

U.S. Attorney Warns Oregon About Recreational Marijuana Boom

Will faulty, incomplete statistics be used to justify a crackdown?

BillboardAlex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/NewscomA guest commentary in The Oregonian today should concern marijuana growers in the Beaver State. A U.S. attorney is hinting he may unleash some sort of action against Oregon's pot industry.

Billy J. Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, is concerned about the amount of marijuana being shipped out of the state. Police have seized more than a ton of pot in outbound parcels for 2017 and more than $1 million in cash. Oregon, he concludes, has an "overproduction" problem.

He then claims that "overproduction creates a powerful profit incentive." This gets the economics backwards: Producing too much of something drives its market value downward. What he means is that the excess production of marijuana is pushing producers to find someplace else to sell it, i.e., in states where recreational use is still illegal.

But that's a demand problem, isn't it? Williams complains about black and gray markets that are entirely a consequence of the government insisting on criminalizing a product that Americans want to buy and consume.

Williams also blames Congress for marijuana's persistence as a federally forbidden drug under the Controlled Substance Act, even though the Drug Enforcement Agency has the authority to reschedule it administratively.

Williams doesn't appear to be threatening an immediate crackdown, and casual pot users are probably under no threat of federal prosecution. But he doesn't like the way Oregon is handling legalization, and he's doing the sort of fearmongering that officials tend to do when they're preparing to act:

We also know that even recreational marijuana permitted under state law carries ill-effects on public health and safety, as Colorado's experience shows. Since 2013, marijuana-related traffic deaths have doubled in Colorado. Marijuana-related emergency and hospital admissions have increased 35 percent. And youth marijuana use is up 12 percent, 55 percent higher than the national average. We must do everything in our power to avoid similar trends here in Oregon.

Funny, he notices those trends but fails to mention that Colorado has also seen a decline in opioid-related deaths since the state legalized marijuana, a contrast to the overdose crisis that the Justice Department is allegedly very concerned about. Medical marijuana use in New Mexico is also associated with reduced use of opioids. Perhaps Williams should consider the lives potentially being saved by all that pot being exported to other states?

While he's at it, maybe he should read Reason's Jacob Sullum explain that marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado have not in fact doubled and that marijuana use among teens in Colorado is actually going down, not up.

Williams adds:

In the coming days, I will send invitations to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, public health organizations, Oregon marijuana interests and concerned citizen groups to attend a summit to address and remedy these and other concerns.

This summit and the state's response will inform our federal enforcement strategy. How we move forward will depend in large measure on how the state responds to the gaps we have identified. Until then it would be an inappropriate abdication of my duties to issue any blanket proclamations on our marijuana enforcement strategy in light of federal law.

The logical conclusion here is that Williams is attempting to feel out whether there will be a big local backlash if he does crack down on marijuana. He wants to hear people complain that there isn't enough policing going on.

Photo Credit: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Police have seized more than a ton of pot in outbound parcels for 2017 and more than $1 million in cash.

    TRADE DEFICITS

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I still don't fully grasp why I'm supposed to care if kids smoke pot.

    Also, always compare it to alcohol legalization. If someone is advocating for this ban based on danger to society, and not for alcohol then they are completely inconsistent hypocrites.

  • Brandybuck||

    Prohibition is like communism, just keep trying it again when it fails, because surely this time it will work.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Funny, he notices those trends but fails to mention that Colorado has also seen a decline in opioid-related deaths since the state legalized marijuana, a contrast to the overdose crisis that the Justice Department is allegedly very concerned about. Medical marijuana use in New Mexico is also associated with reduced use of opioids.

    Interesting, opioid deaths have gone up (as much as 30%) in Washington since legalizing Marijuana. I'm not really sure there's a meaningful link between legal weed and either decreased or increased opioid deaths.

  • Bronson, Missouri||

    I'm extremely pro-legalization of drugs, to the point where I might be a single issue voter if a candidate made a believable case that he/she would legalize (at least) weed.

    But I don't get the statistical gymnastics. And I don't really believe the stats that Reason pushes here. These bad guys are saying that youth weed smoking is up 12% after legalization? And you're (sort of) objecting to that? It sure seems like making something legal and more available would result in a slight uptick in usage.

    I mean, if beer were made illegal in 2018 and it wasn't available in stores, I'd expect youth beer consumption to decrease by some amount.

    Let it ride. Don't fight everything. It's not a big deal - kids were smoking weed before. Now maybe a few more are smoking weed. It's fine. Sometimes agreeing with your opponents numbers can be more useful in a debate anyway.

    And let's just acknowledge that there are things that happen as a result of our preferred policies. Those things are a mixture of good, bad, and gray area (where this stat is IMO). Not every single thing that happens is going to be agreed upon as a good outcome by every single person in the world.

    Legal weed = a few more people smoking week? OK. Fine. Next issue. Cool. It's just weed, man.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I agree with your sentiments. I find this overly nit-picky focus on statistics and constant hand-wringing over whether youth use (or use in general) goes up when a thing is legalized is the wrong approach. If legalizing the thing is the generally agreed-upon good, then worrying about the minor secondary effects (which are not even necessarily bad on their face) doesn't seem helpful.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And it's fundamentally the same argument as the drug warriors. Just they say the net benefit is good. Both are advocating under the guise that the government is right to intervene one way or the other.

  • Billy Bones||

    But it is not legal for youth. And by claiming that youth usage is increasing in states that have legalized is dubious at best. An underage person can more easily gain access through the black market than a legal market. And studies that conclude that youth usage is increasing may not, in fact, be accurate. It could be very well be that respondents are being more honest now that stigma has been removed than they were previously. I, too, am sick and tired of all the "because the children" reasoning in everything that "must be prohibited", nor do I give a buffalo nickel if your kids smoke weed. They are your responsibility and problem, not mine (that is a general "you", not specific). But as long as politicians use this reasoning and back it up with very questionable statistics, I will continue to use gymnastics to fight back against.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""The logical conclusion here is that Williams is attempting to feel out whether there will be a big local backlash if he does crack down on marijuana. He wants to hear people complain that there isn't enough policing going on.""

    I disagree.

    It looks like Williams knows that pot going across state lines is a trigger for the feds to pounce since it then becomes a commerce clause issue. If the feds are going to pounce anywhere, I would guess they will hit the low lying fruit that is making court cases easier, at least where they have SCOTUS precedents.

  • RPGuy16||

    Except that SCOTUS has already said that a single person growing pot on his own land for his own consumption is interstate commerce.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    True.

    But since it really isn't interstate commerce, SCOTUS could overturn their own ruling and a case like this could be risky for that.

  • Brandybuck||

    I liked Billy J Williams in "The Empire Strikes Back", but this latest move a pathetic attempt to keep his name in front of the movie going audience.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Billy Dee Williams.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online