Burnsgate: 21 Questions After Tom Burns’ Firing


The firing of Oregon’s Marijuana Czar, Tom Burns, understandably rocked the Oregon cannabis community and everyone involved with developing prospective legislation and regulation that would implement marijuana legalization in the Beaver State. At first, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) was silent about why their Director of Marijuana Programs was fired, but as Marijuana Politics scooped first, it was eventually announced that Burns was fired for leaking an internal OLCC document, lying about leaking it and trying to cover his tracks by deleting the emails proving that he was the leak. I have coined this scandal “Burnsgate” and  like Watergate and many other scandals, the coverup was what led to a government official’s downfall.

The OLCC stated that the recipient of the leak, Portland attorney Amy Margolis, Director of the Oregon Cannabis PAC (formerly knows as the Oregon Growers PAC), had no culpability in the leak from their point of view. I have learned that Ms. Margolis curiously shared a picture of a computer screen (not a screen shot, but an actual picture) with the leaked document on it with at least one person and she didn’t just forward the email from Burns, showing that he sent the document to her. As members of the media inevitably start looking over all of Mr. Burns’ emails, it will be very interesting to see what more details emerge. It is certain that many questions remain regarding both Mr. Burns and Ms. Margolis, including these 13:

1. Why did Tom Burns leak the document to Amy Margolis in the first place? (Was it a policy decision or a personal decision or another reason?)

2. Why did Tom Burns lie about being the source of the leak? (Was it just a heat of the moment lapse or was there some thought behind it?)

3. Why would Tom Burns be willing to risk a prominent government job, paying him more than $100,000 a year, to leak an internal document to a lobbyist and then lie about leaking it?

4. Did Burns tell Ms. Margolis that she needed to keep the document, or source of the document, secret?

5. Did Burns tell Ms. Margolis that this was just a working, unfinished document?

6. If Burns did tell Margolis that it was a working document, how did she characterize the document when she shared it? Margolis’ characterization of the letter to other parties could potentially bring up ethical issues for her as an attorney and possibly as a lobbyist.

7. Was it Burns’ decision to lie about the leak his alone, or were he and Margolis in contact after the leak, strategizing together?

8. Will Burns speak publicly about this leak and his motive for leaking it and then lying about leaking it?

9. Does Amy Margolis agree with Geoff Sugerman, another lobbyist for the Oregon Cannabis PAC,  when he stated to the Willamette Week that the leaked document was not meant to be a confidential, internal document and that the leaked document had been floating around the capitol for “at least a week, if not more”?

10. If this document wasn’t meant to be confidential and had been floating around the capitol for “at least a week, if not more” why would Amy Margolis take a photo of her computer screen when sharing the document? Why not just forward the email from Tom Burns?

11. Did Amy Margolis register as a lobbyist in accordance with the law? As of March 2nd, she was not registered as a lobbyist and the Russ Belvile Show broke on Twitter that an ethics complaint has been levied against Ms. Margolis. (Russ Belville does contribute blogs for Marijuana Politics.)

12. Has Amy Margolis registered as a lobbyist? And if so, did she do so before legally obligated?

13. Will Amy Margolis suffer any punishment from the Oregon State Bar or the Oregon Government Ethics Commission because of her role in this leak or if it is found that she didn’t legally register as a lobbyist?

14. What will this scandal do to legislation favored by Amy Margolis and her PAC, such as Senate Bill 936 and House Bill 2676?

15. Will this scandal impact Ms. Margolis, or other members of her PAC, if they submitted applications to sit on the OLCC Measure 91 Rules Advisory Committee?

16. What was Ms. Margolis’ motivation in sharing the leaked document?

17. Will this scandal hinder Margolis and her PAC in their efforts to lobby for SB 936, HB 2676 or other reforms that they support?

18. What do members of the Oregon Cannabis PAC (again, formerly the Oregon Growers PAC) think about Margolis’ role in this leak and the firing of Tom Burns?

19. Will this scandal hinder Margolis’ ability to recruit new members to her PAC, that costs $10,000 to join this legislative session?

20. Will this scandal hurt Margolis’ law firm, the Emerge Law Group, especially if she is sanctioned by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission or the Oregon State Bar?

21. Will Amy Margolis speak publicly on the record to discuss this leak and her role in it?

As you can see, many questions remain, as my 21 questions are really even more than 21 and answers to these questions will likely lead to even more questions. Following the fall from grace of Governor John Kitzhaber, it is amazing that Tom Burns felt that he could leak this document, lie about it and that hitting “delete” would adequately cover his tracks. It seems clear that the coverup was worse than the leak as leaking the document may not have led to his firing.

Instead of coming clean, one of Oregon’s most prominent state officials was willing to throw away a six-figure salary with great state benefits as well as his legacy. Regardless of how these 21+ questions get answered, I am willing to bet that this is a story that won’t simply go away as it seems that there must be more to this story as it really baffles the mind as to why a high-ranking government official would be willing to put his career in such danger over a rather trivial matter. Stay tuned to Marijuana Politics as we continue our coverage and breaking news.

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