State lawmakers push to protect pot users' info from US
SALEM — Oregon lawmakers worried about a nationwide crackdown on legal marijuana under President Donald Trump's administration are rushing to protect the personal information of pot customers in case federal agents try to seize it.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is taking one of the first direct state actions in response to White House spokesman Sean Spicer last week suggesting a boost in enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week that the Justice Department is reviewing an Obama-era memo giving states flexibility in passing marijuana laws.
The committee that crafts Oregon's pot policies has proposed legislation that requires marijuana businesses to destroy customers' personal information, such as names, addresses and birth dates, gathered for marketing purposes, within 48 hours.
The measure is scheduled for its first hearing Tuesday. It must pass the full Legislature and be signed by the Democratic governor, who's vowed to fight federal interference in Oregon's pot market.
"I could see where the federal government would come in and try to gather this information from businesses that have stockpiled it and retained it in their records," said Democratic state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a bill sponsor who is also a prosecutor. "I think we as legislators have a duty to protect our citizens."
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Shops that sell the drug are open in four states and are required to check IDs to verify that customers are at least 21.
But many in Oregon go further, keeping an internal log of customers' personal details to promote their product, including special deals and discounts on birthdays. Some dealers even log driver's license numbers to track each marijuana product a person buys and on which dates, which helps customers buy an item again even if they forget its name.
Colorado and Alaska prohibit retaining that private information. It's also frowned upon, although not illegal, in Washington state.
"The reason we keep that information is to reach out to them — it's marketing, just like any retailer," said Donald Morse, executive director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council.
Some lawmakers and marijuana industry experts say the ramifications also could be far-reaching for some recreational users and medical cardholders, who might be federal employees or have permits to carry concealed weapons.
"When you go to purchase a firearm, you have to fill out a background check, and there's a specific question about marijuana use on that form," said Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, also a bill sponsor. "I would hate to think that some misguided effort at the federal level to coordinate the client lists that could be confiscated in absence of this (proposal) with the firearms purchase lists."
More than half the country has approved legalized marijuana in some form, mostly for medical purposes. Any federal attempt to crack down on recreational pot could affect medical marijuana users because the markets are increasingly integrated.
State pot programs have rolled out without federal interference largely from two key Obama-era directives, both of which are under federal review.
Morse, of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said the time and costs it would take to step up federal enforcement would not make sense, nor would the federal government targeting individual pot customers.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Morse, who owns a dispensary in Portland that also keeps customer logs.
Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, agrees that the Justice Department typically has not gone after individuals. But there are still uncertainties, and people's privacy should be of utmost importance, he said.
"We don't really track people's purchases to any real degree for things like alcohol," Lindsey said. "Why would the government need that information about me?"