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Oregon Secretary of State Under Fire for Refusing to Address Her Marijuana Consultant Job

Shemia Fagan recused herself from taking part in her office's audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission

The Secretary of State in Oregon sparked an ethics debate after she took a job as a paid consultant for a cannabis company while her office was auditing the marijuana industry. 

Shemia Fagan’s unwillingness to address questions about her work with La Mota irritated her constituents last week. While campaigning in 2022, Fagan stressed the importance of confidence in the government.

“My mission is to build trust between the people of Oregon and their state government so that public services can make a positive difference in people’s everyday lives,” Fagan had said in a letter to the Senate Committee on Rules in March. “In elections, trust is the very foundation of our democracy.”

Fagan’s connection to the cannabis company was made public on April 28 when her office released an audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, which oversees the regulation of marijuana. Fagan recused herself from the audit because of her work for an affiliate of La Mota. The audit was believed to be largely completed when Fagan took the consulting job. The final version of the audit called for some regulation reforms to aid the industry, which is subject to federal interstate commerce and taxation regulations.

La Mota is a dispensary chain with over 20 locations in western Oregon that advertised it sells “50+ strains to choose from to suit all of your medicating needs.”

Governor Tina Kotek said she was “very dismayed” to learn of Fagan’s connection to the company at a press conference on April 29 in Portland.

“It’s critical that Oregonians trust their government,” Kotek said, per Oregon Live. She told reporters she asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to review the incident and that the Secretary of State’s office will be evaluated by the state’s Department of Justice.

“At the end of the day, it’s always safest to have a strong firewall between the work that’s in your office and what you do personally,” said the Democrat. “For me, look, I don’t have outside employment. I only have one job, so I can’t speak to what anyone else does.”

State Republicans expressed concerns about Fagan’s consultancy and the subsequent publication of the audit. 

“This appears to be an ethics violation and if it isn’t then Oregon’s ethics laws are broken,” Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp and House Republican leader Vikki Breese-Iverson said in a joint statement, per Newsmax.

Fagan said in a statement released on April 28 that her contract with La Mota “does not create a conflict of interest under Oregon law or ethics rules.”

“I am relieved that the Governor has asked DOJ and the Government Ethics Commission to engage in fact finding because the facts will restore trust in our audits division and in me as your Secretary of State,” Fagan said in a statement reported by AP News.

Oregon legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014.

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