Oregon: State Marijuana Chief Fired By Liquor Control Commission


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Tom Burns, who directed marijuana programs for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, was fired on Thursday.

Burns saw implementation of the state's medical marijuana dispensary program, and had led efforts to establish a recreational cannabis market in the state after voters approved legalization last fall, reports Noelle Crombie at The Oregonian. Burns confirmed his dismissal in an interview with The Oregonian Thursday afternoon.

Declining to comment any further, Burns directed questions to Steven Marks, executive director of the OLCC; Marks couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Rob Patridge, chairman of the liquor control commission, declined to comment on Burns' firing, characterizing it as a "personel matter."

The position's duties will be taken on by Will Higlin, the OLCC's director of licensing, until a permanent replacement is named.

The agency announced that Burns' firing will not affect the timeline for drafting recreational marijuana industry rules and regulations.

State Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland), co-chair of the House-Senate committee on implementing recreational marijuana legalization, said she was shocked and disappointed by the news of Burns' firing.

"I don't know how we're going to get through this without him," Burdick said. "He's the most knowledgeable person on marijuana policy in the state. It's a real shock. It's going to be a real loss to the legislative effort."

Burdick said there wasn't much she other other lawmakers could or should do about the decision by OLCC Director Marks. "We don't do hiring and firing," she said. "It's pretty perilous [for legislators] to get involved in personnel matters.

Marijuana advocates were also stunned by the news. "Wow," said Compassionate Oregon's Anthony Taylor, who advocates for medical cannabis patients. "His ability to interface with the Legislature, and being able to lay out a case for what we are trying to accomplish here, was pretty good."

"Are you serious?" asked Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, when told of Burns' firing. Bovett worked with Burns on implementing the state's medical marijuana dispensary program.

Burns, 61, in December was named director of marijuana programs in Oregon after 18 months of overseeing the medical cannabis dispensary program.

By law, new rules for the recreational marijuana industry must be ready by late 2015 and the state must begin accepting applications from prospective growers, processors and retailers by January 2016.

Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff/The Oregonian/OregonLive