Opinion: OLLC Stumbles and Fails on Violations

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (“OLCC”) has a problematic system for issuing violations to licensees. Over the years, I have seen this situation play out for many operators and it shows a complete failing by the regulators to act in the interest of public safety, as well as a violation of due process on behalf of the licensees. Here is the scenario:
1. OLCC inspects the facility. They likely point out some issues, ask a few questions, maybe even act like it is nothing and just ask that you fix it after they leave.
2. You hear nothing. For months. Likely more than a year. You might even have additional inspections without incident.
3. You receive a charging letter in the mail that lists a dozen violations of OAR 845-025 with varying degrees of penalties and a very strict proposed punishment, likely a suspension and/or revocation of your license. You have the right to challenge this in a hearing.
We have more than a few clients facing this exact scenario. As far as I can see in my years of dealing with OLCC, there is absolutely no reason for the incredible delay in processing violations from an inspection. It is not clear whether they have an internal policy that tells inspectors to sit on violations for this period of time, but if that were the case, surely it has no purpose other than reducing the licensee’s ability to defend itself. Licensees are being harmed by this practice as relevant evidence is no longer available 18 months later; employees may have left the company, camera footage is long gone, etc. If the purpose of compliance and violations is to ensure public health and safety, who does it serve to allow a company with dozens of violations to continue to operate for 12-18 months after those violations are discovered by OLCC staff? In the other State’s were we practice, these types of violations would be issued within days and, often times, would be a “Notice to Correct,” followed by another visit to confirm that the issues had been corrected. That is acting in the best interest of public safety.

Beyond the processing of violations, OLCC has a long history of failing to actually process change applications despite accepting the changes. For example, I have seen licensees file a change of ownership removing a member of a company. A year later, OLCC is still contacting that former member claiming they are still an owner on the license even though the application was clearly in OLCC’s system. They simply failed to update their records.  What does it say about our regulators that they cannot simply update information and process inspection reports in a timely fashion? How are we in the industry supposed to trust regulators who can discover violations and sit on them for more than a year? I think we, as an industry, should ask OLCC to do better.

Matthew Cleary

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