Editors Note: The story first stated that the Associated Press broke the news of the investigation into the managers at the OLCC when it was actually the Oregonian, the story has been updated to reflect that.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission faced backlash over top managers diverting bourbon for themselves and the fallout from a cannabis chain’s business dealing with former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, OLCC Board Chair Marvin Révoal is tasked with rebuilding trust at the agency.
Révoal, who was on the board for 13 years before being appointed as board chair by Gov. Tina Kotek, says the OLCC is taking steps to renew its credibility.
As reported by the Oregonian in February 2023, an internal OLCC investigation found that Executive Director Steve Marks and five other agency officials diverted bourbon — including Pappy Van Winkle 23 — for their personal use.
The bourbon scandal led to a criminal investigation by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and calls from Gov. Tina Kotek for Marks to resign.
After Marks’ resignation, she appointed Craig Prins as the new OLCC leader.
Marks now says he is going to sue Gov. Kotek — claiming Kotek asked him to step down at the behest of La Mota cannabis co-owners Rosa Cazares and Aaron Mitchell, who he says had influence over the governor and then-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.
Révoal says the biggest change since the bourbon scandal is better communication within the agency.
“We have better communications. Better communications with our commissioners and better communications with our interim executive director Craig Prins. That has gone a long way in rebuilding trust within our organization, which is most important, as well as rebuilding trust and credibility throughout the state, the legislature and with the governor,” Révoal explained.
He says the OLCC board is still looking into changes that can prevent other OLCC leaders from taking advantage of their positions to divert liquor for personal use.
“One of the things that we’re looking at is procedures that led to this type of situation to occur. We continue to review that. The biggest thing I think we’ve done as change is to be open to questions from the community, and from our employees and from our stakeholders,” Révoal said.
The Oregonian reported earlier in August 2023 that Révoal himself inquired about whiskey for a friend in 2016.
“It wasn’t for me,” Révoal laughed. “What people need to understand is when you call, or when people call OLCC and have a question about how to do business with OLCC, we’re going to answer that question. We’re going to help you find that information. And when it comes to my case particularly, we asked an administrative person ‘Could you connect this citizen with someone who could help him find the product?’”
“That’s what we as commissioners do in that kind of situation. We step away. Someone did call my friend and told him where he could find a particular product. Seven years later, I find out that that happened. He went to his local store, like he was supposed to, asked if that liquor could be transferred to his local store and it was. He went there and paid,” Révoal said.
He emphasized the importance of OLCC commissioners having ethics.
“As commissioners, we do not solicit, nor will we accept special privileges from anyone, for anyone. You have to have ethics and those are our ethics; treat everyone equitably, try to help people understand what the rules and regulations for our stakeholders and for the community, that’s the most important thing that we have,” Révoal said.
According to Révoal, the OLCC board acts as a regulatory and policy board, but he says under new leadership, the board is choosing not to exercise as much control as it could.
“The OLCC managers have really a lot of control over the entire organization, most of which we choose not to exercise because the executive, Craig Prins, has the daily responsibility to run the organization. He reports to us, we can hire, we can terminate, we can do a lot. But we don’t get involved in how he is going to work with his staff and the organization,” Révoal said.
In early May, former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan resigned over ethics concerns regarding her paid consulting contract with La Mota. At the time of her contract, her office was auditing Oregon’s cannabis industry. Fagan recused herself from the audit and claimed she took on the consulting position to supplement her income because she had trouble making ends meet with her salary as the secretary of state.
When asked if La Mota had influence over the OLCC, Révoal explained, “the cannabis industry, the marijuana industry, has grown significantly over the last nine years. What we try to do is working with large companies and small companies to make sure they understand the rules and regulations of the organization. I was quite surprised to find out that [La Mota] had hired the secretary of state as well as the rest of the commissioners.”
He added, “when we deal with our stakeholders, we deal with them as regulators. We are a regulatory board. So, that means I may like you a lot, I may respect you but there are rules and regulations that we are going to hold you accountable for. That includes La Mota and anyone else.”
With more than 800 cannabis dispensaries in Oregon, supply is outpacing demand, driving prices down. Révoal says being a cannabis industry entrepreneur isn’t an easy cash grab.
“I think it’s important for the individuals involved in that industry understand that this is a business. Unfortunately, too many individuals or companies somehow thought that this was going to be a goose to lay the golden egg. What they didn’t understand is if you’re going to grow cannabis, marijuana, hemp, you’re going to become a farmer. That’s important to understand and you’re going to run a business,” Révoal said.
He added, “in the very beginning, the OLCC did a lot to help that industry think like businesspeople. We continue to do that. You need to get a lawyer, you need to have an accountant, you need to have insurance, all those things that every other business has. It’s unfortunate that too many people thought this could be an easy way to make money. No business is easy.”