March 29, 2015

Oregon ‘Marijuana Czar’ Firing Creates Many Questions

March 29, 2015
fired marijuana job

fired marijuana jobTom Burns was the head of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and oversaw the roll out of dispensary licenses. He toured the state participating in speaking engagements, and was considered by many within Oregon state government to be the ‘go to’ guy on marijuana policy. So it didn’t surprise anyone when Tom Burns left the Oregon Heath Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) to take the lead on implementing marijuana legalization at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). But after just three months on the job with the OLCC, Tom Burns was abruptly fired.

Rumors started swirling immediately as to why Tom Burns was fired. There was speculation that he was just hard to work with, and as an at will employee, he was let go as a result of conflicting personalities. The OLCC was quick to say that it wasn’t a personality issue that resulted in the termination of employee. After about a day, it became known that the reason that Tom Burns was fired was because he had leaked a confidential rule making document. The document listed three names, although while Tom Burns is on the hook for the leaked document, the three people listed on the leaked document are not. Marijuana Politics was the first I saw to break the story of the leaked document. Per the article posted on Marijuana Politics:

I have learned from an anonymous source with intimate details of the ouster of Tom Burns, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s Director of Marijuana Programs for the past three months, was partly due to an improper leak of a work-in-progress internal document that was being reviewed by OLCC staff. Tom Burns leaked the working document to Oregon attorney Amy Margolis who then shared the document with others. The release of the working document caused headaches for the OLCC and complicated the process of reaching a consensus on important issues regarding the regulation of marijuana in Oregon. Apparently, Burns lied about the leakand tried to cover his tracks.

It has been common knowledge among the marijuana community that Ms. Margolis and Mr. Burns were very close allies. Margolis, in addition to being an attorney, is the Director and founder of the Oregon Cannabis PAC, formerly knows as the Oregon Growers PAC. The PAC has hired lobbyist (and dispensary owner and grower) Geoff Sugerman as well as the firm State Street Solutions. It is unclear if the leaking of this document has any confidentiality or ethical concerns for Ms. Margolis and her PAC. While the OLCC is claiming that she has no culpability in the matter,  I am curious as to how the Oregon Ethics Commission or the Oregon State Bar will feel about Amy Margolis’ role if Burns told Margolis that it was a working policy document and she characterized it differently to whoever she showed the document to, for instance. Additionally, if reporters get a hold of his emails (as I imagine they will), will there be more damaging information released, for both Burns and Margolis?

That article broke at 1:47 p.m. on March 27th (Friday). By 2:05, broke the news on Twitter that Amy Margolis had an ethics complaint filed against her:



As soon as there is a link to info about the ethics complaint, I’ll make sure to add them to this article (I have talked to people close to the filing, but I don’t want to speculate until there is something I can link to). Public record requests have been filed by several entities, and it will be very interesting to see what, if anything, anyone finds. One of the looming questions is ‘who replaces Tom Burns?’ Per Oregon Live:

Will Higlin, the agency’s director of licensing, will assume the job’s duties until a permanent replacement is named. The agency also announced that Burns’ firing will not affect the timeline for drafting rules for a regulated recreational marijuana industry.

The OLCC says that this will not affect the timeline for drafting rules for Oregon’s legal marijuana industry, and I hope that’s true. I also hope that Will Higlin will take a fair and balanced approach to the rule making process. I know there are a lot of people right now in the industry that fear what could happen if Mr. Higlin is not knowledgeable about the subject, and/or if he does something to harm the process. There is still a lot of dust to settle in this scenario, and we have to let due process take its course. With that being said, if I was someone that has done something wrong during this process, I would come clean sooner than later, because it’s likely to come out in upcoming weeks as public e-mails get in the hands of members of the media.

Other questions that people involved with Oregon’s marijuana industry are asking are ‘what does this mean for the future of legal marijuana in Oregon?’ Also,  ’What does this mean for the future of the Oregon Grower’s PAC?’ The Oregon Grower’s PAC has been growing in size and influence recently, and I can’t imagine having a leader with an ethics complaint hanging over her head is a good thing if anything in the complaint proves to be true. Regardless of that the truth is, with Tom Burns, Amy Margolis, leaked documents, etc., one thing is for sure – this is a black eye on Oregon’s emerging marijuana industry and a black eye on Oregon in general. As a lifelong Oregonian it makes me sad, but I’m hopeful that Oregon’s marijuana industry and activist base can remain strong and move forward. I’ll make sure to update this article as more stuff gets sorted out.



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