Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission Director Steve Marks and other top leaders of OLCC have been ousted from office and are under investigation for an abuse of power scandal that came to light early this month.
An OLCC employee complaint of wrongdoings by Steve Marks and other top employees prompted an internal investigation of the agency. The investigation revealed that Marks had instructed staff to divert expensive bottles of liquor to stores where Marks and others could purchase it before public access. Other OLCC managers replicated Mark’s strategies, affording themselves the opportunity to buy highly demanded liquor that the public frequently had limited access to. OLCC employees within the liquor department cited instances of Marks and others requesting preferential access to liquor dating back eight years.
Marks and other OLCC executives’ actions present a particularly egregious abuse of power, given that OLCC has a monopoly on liquor sales in the state and is in charge of licensing, permitting, and monitoring compliance in the liquor industry. In abusing this regulatory authority, Marks notably diverted Pappy’s 23 bourbons for himself, whereas the public competed for access to buy that same liquor by entering a drawing system with the odds of getting to buy a bottle being 1 in 4,150.
Both the Oregon Department of Justice and newly elected Governor Tina Kotek have called for swift action on OLCC’s ethical violations. These actions follow an already public demand from Kotek for Marks’ resignation. Kotek released a statement to the public criticizing the agency’s wrongdoings:
"After requesting the head of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s (OLCC) resignation, my administration became aware that leaders within this agency, including the director himself, abused their position for personal gain per their own admission in an internal investigation," Kotek wrote to the commissioners. "This behavior is wholly unacceptable. I will not tolerate wrongful violations of our government ethics laws." Kotek called on commissioners to remove unspecified other managers and leaders from their positions who "have taken advantage of their access and authority to benefit themselves."
The Oregon Attorney General has announced it will first seek a criminal investigation, before turning to the Governor’s requested civil investigation, to determine the extent of the “ethics violations related to the purchase of liquor by some staff of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission ( OLCC) and possibly others.”
It's unclear who will next lead OLCC, but Marks’ resignation has the potential to change the hemp industry positively. Steve Marks, OLCC director since 2013, has been a vocal supporter of transferring authority to license and regulate hemp to OLCC and away from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Most recently, Marks led OLCC during Operation Table Rock in Southern Oregon and served on the HB 3000 Taskforce. The Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association has been successful in holding OLCC off, and maintaining ODA regulatory authority over the program.
Steve Mark's possible last act as OLCC Director was a biennial report submitted to the Oregon Legislature on the 2023 Marijuana Supply and Demand with an accompanying letter to legislators. In this report, he announced "declining prices combined with slower growth in consumer purchasing resulted in the first-ever decrease in sales, from $1.2 billion in 2021 to $994 million in 2022. While the self-correction in the market has led to a closer balance in annual supply and demand, it also reveals the precarious economic position of Oregon’s cannabis industry."
Have further questions about how the turnover at OLCC could impact the Oregon hemp Program and pending legislation this 2023 Session? Please schedule a consultation with EARTH Law, LLC for answers. You can contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 541-632-3946.