The Columbian / Associated Press

Oregon's marijuana director has been fired

PORTLAND — The official hired to lead Oregon’s preparations to regulate recreational marijuana said Thursday that he has been fired.

Tom Burns confirmed his termination in an interview, The Oregonian reported.

Burns oversaw the rollout of the state’s medical marijuana dispensary program. He was tapped in December to direct marijuana programs for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

He declined further comment, referring questions to commission Executive Director Steven Marks, who could not immediately be reached for comment. The liquor control commission’s chairman, Rob Patridge, declined comment, calling it “a personnel matter.”

The agency’s licensing director, Will Higlin, will take over the job until a permanent replacement is found, the newspaper said.

Burns’ departure will not affect the timeline for drafting rules for the new industry, the agency said.

A voter-approved marijuana initiative requires the liquor control commission to come up with regulations for growing, testing and distributing marijuana. Sales are expected to begin early in 2016.

The news surprised legislators and marijuana advocates.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get through this without him,” said state Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. Burdick co-chairs the House-Senate committee on implementing Oregon’s new recreational marijuana law.

She said she was shocked and disappointed, calling Burns “the most knowledgeable person on marijuana policy in the state.”

Anthony Taylor leads Compassionate Oregon, a group that advocates for medical marijuana patients. He said Burns worked hard to build consensus as director of the dispensary program.

“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,” Taylor said.

In his previous job, Burns, 61, worked at the Oregon Health Authority and was in charge of developing regulations for stores that distribute medical marijuana.

New rules for recreational marijuana must be in place by late 2015, and the state must begin accepting applications from growers, processors and retailers by January 2016.

Source: The Columbian / Associated Press