Steve Marks, former Executive Director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC), is filing a lawsuit against the state and its officers for a breach of legal duties.

Marks was forced out by Governor Kotek in January of 2023, reportedly because Marks had been caught up in the OLCC’s high-end whiskey scandal that later came to the public’s attention after he had already resigned. To be more accurate, Kotek forced out Marks because Rosa Cazares and her partner in the cannabis business, La Mota, Aaron Mitchell, let it be known to Kotek and Oregon’s Secretary of State at the time, Shemia Fagan, that they wanted Marks out because his position on the state’s cannabis commission was getting in the way of their business interests.

Cazares and Mitchell first began to butt heads with the OLCC in 2018 when the state organization found out that one of Cazares’ and Mitchell’s companies, Black Market Distribution LLC, had mishandled 148 pounds of their marijuana in “a manner suggesting it might be diverted from Oregon’s legal market to the black market.” La Mota was cited and fined for this highly illegal and unethical breach for two years. Right before resolving the dispute, Cazares and Mitchell began to make large contributions to both Kotek’s and Fagan’s election campaigns, as well as to other prominent Democratic Party leaders, including current US House Representative, Val Hoyle, who had previously been the Executive Director of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI).

Cazares hosted several fundraisers and political gatherings at her mansion, including two for Shemia Fagan and one for Tina Kotek. She also hosted a black-tie gala for Kotek during her gubernatorial campaign, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for her.

Cazares and Mitchell, after contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to top Democratic Party leaders, formed close friendships with both Fagan and Kotek, and after having helped the two get elected to their respective positions, began to leverage these connections to further their own business interests in La Mota. During the audit that would attempt to show that Oregon’s cannabis regulations were too stringent, Fagan directed the Audits Division to interview Cazares specifically so she could direct the audit. In the subsequent interview, Cazares “called for the OLCC to stop regulating cannabis altogether.”

The audit report entitled “Oregon Needs to Modernize Cannabis Laws to Help Grow the State’s Economy and Ensure Equitable Opportunities and Benefits for All Communities,” heavily critiqued OLCC cannabis regulations for not being friendly enough to cannabis entrepreneurs. In short, the audit report “reflected exactly the calls for reduced regulation that Cazares had pressed Fagan’s staff for.”

Of course, now we know that while Fagan was directing the Audits Division to do exactly what Cazares and Mitchell wanted, they had hired Fagan as a consultant for La Mota at $10,000 per month with potential bonuses of $30,000 each time Fagan helped La Mota get approved to do business in other states.

Although these substantial efforts by Cazares and Mitchell to manipulate state law for their own business interests were very effective, they both knew that no matter what the audit report stated, they would still need to get participation from the OLCC to set them in stone. Although Cazares and Mitchell held significant influence over Fagan and Kotek, they still had no influence over Marks, which is why they used their influence to get Kotek to demand Marks’ resignation.

On January 31, 2023, Kotek’s Chief of Staff, Andrea Cooper, and Leslie Berri, head of the Department of Administrative Services, met with Marks and told him that Governor Kotek wanted his resignation. Then on February 10,2023, an attorney from Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s office contacted Marks’ attorney and told him that if Marks didn’t immediately resign, Marks would face the OLCC board’s review of his employment on February 13. He resigned effective February 15, and the press reported that Kotek had forced him to resign over the whiskey bottle scandal.  Kotek to this day has not given a reason for demanding he resignation.


As the interviewer for PDX Real Community Engage Reporting, I am committed to providing authentic and unapologetic reporting that highlights the issues that our community needs to hear about, but may not be getting from mainstream media or our governing bodies. Today, we are talking about the ongoing drug epidemic in Portland, specifically the impact of meth and fentanyl on our community.

I am joined by Steven, who has been through a remarkable journey of recovery and has graciously shared his story with us. Steven, thank you for being here and for your bravery in sharing your experiences.

In our conversation, we discuss the video that was posted of Steven during a moment of psychosis, and how it made him feel to see himself in that situation. We also talk about the regret and humility that he felt when he saw the video, and how it made him realize the importance of seeking help and getting sober.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge Steven’s courage in sharing his story, and to let him know that he is loved and supported by this community. His honesty and willingness to share his experiences are a testament to the strength and resilience of those who are struggling with addiction.

As we delve into the issues facing our community, it is important to approach the topic with sensitivity and understanding. We must recognize that addiction is a disease, and that those who are struggling deserve compassion and support, rather than judgment or blame.