Drunk on Power | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Drunk on Power

Officials at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission used their position to snag rare booze

Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission President Steve Marks resigned his position as the executive director of the government agency, effective Wednesday, Feb. 15, after Gov. Tina Kotek demanded his resignation. Marks led the agency, which regulates the sale and production of alcohol and marijuana in the state, since 2013 — a year before it branched into regulating cannabis. Willamette Week first reported Kotek asked Marks to step down on Feb. 1, but Kotek said her administration wasn't aware of the alleged abuses of power at the time she requested Marks resign in a letter the OLCC Commission.

click to enlarge Drunk on Power
Dale Cruse
Don't bogart that bourbon, my friend, set aside a bottle for me.

An internal investigation found that Marks and other officials diverted rare liquors for personal use, according to The Oregonian. Oregon heavily regulates alcohol by way of the OLCC, which prohibits hard liquor from being sold in grocery stores, standardizes prices set in liquor stores and holds lotteries for rare brands of liquor. According to The Oregonian's reporting, Marks admitted to setting aside bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 23, which someone who buys into the lottery has about a one-in-5,000 chance of obtaining. The bourbon retails for $80 to $250, but its scarcity often ramps up its value in the aftermarket to several thousand dollars. Marks told investigators he didn't feel he violated Oregon's ethics laws.

At least five other officials diverted alcohol to purchase later, with one saying it was a widespread practice at OLCC. The office also allegedly redirected liquor to state lawmakers. Marks didn't address the controversy in his resignation letter to the OLCC commission.

"Gov. Kotek has requested that I resign from my position as Executive Director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Because I believe that the Governor is entitled to have her own management team, I will honor that request," he wrote.

Kotek is seeking the resignation of other workers who abused power in the OLCC, asking the OLCC Board of Commissioners to install new leadership and remove managers and executives who've benefitted themselves from their position at the OLCC. She also asked the attorney general to perform a civil investigation on the extent of wrongdoing and recommend procedures to ensure ethics laws are followed at the OLCC. On Friday, Feb. 10, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she's opening a criminal investigation into ethics compliance in the OLCC, and that the civil investigation Kotek requested will be delayed.

Kotek recommended the OLCC Commission appoint Oregon Department of Corrections' Inspector General Craig Prins on Feb. 15.

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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