Legal pot growers frustrated with illegal operations in Oregon

Legal pot growers frustrated with illegal operations in Oregon

Salem, Rekaz. Amanda Metzler, a licensed cannabis grower, has beefed up security around her property and no longer dares go outside after dark because she fears armed cartel members who run illegal marijuana plantations in her area — even right across the street.

Vineyard owner Eileen Miller said the illegal sites have attracted so many field workers that grape growers and wineries are understaffed, especially at harvest time.

The crime rate linked to the thousands of illegal marijuana plantations that have sprung up this year in southern Oregon, says Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler, has crossed the line.

“We’ve had stabbings, robberies, robberies, burglaries, murders, sex crimes, car accidents, and DUIs, all of which are linked to the influx of the marijuana and cannabis industry in our valley,” Sickler said. “It’s definitely an issue we deal with on a daily basis here.”

The three were among witnesses who testified Tuesday before an Oregon legislature, trying to seek help in stemming the spread of illegal farming sites in southern Oregon.

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Site managers brazenly set up last spring primarily in Jackson and Josephine counties in the largely rural area near the California state line stole water from rivers, streams and aquifers during a severe drought and mistreated migrant workers, officials said. .

Many illegal marijuana plantations operate under the guise of being legal cannabis growers. Stephen Marks, director of the Oregon Liquor and Hemp Commission, said that tests conducted at nearly 400 cannabis sites from July 28 to mid-September showed that most plants contained higher amounts of THC, the ingredient that gives cannabis its high content. . Cannabis is legally allowed.

“So the result is that 54% of all the tests we’ve successfully tested have been positive and hypothetical for marijuana,” Marks said.

Managers of 73 sites asked state inspectors to stay away and denied access. Many locations are guarded by armed men.

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Sickler described a “growth explosion” on marijuana plantations.

“We don’t have the resources in Jackson County to deal with something like that,” Sickler told the House Temporary Committee on Economic Recovery and Prosperity.

Rep. Pam Marsh, an Ashland Democrat in Jackson County, agreed.

“I can tell you that on Earth, the ubiquitous presence of these structures, often with little effort intended to protect them from public view, was appalling,” Marsh said.

Officials said there were not enough inspectors to test the THC content at each site to determine which ones are legal and which are illegal. Police said they do not have the ability to raid all suspicious locations, as each raid requires an investigation and a search warrant.

“First and foremost, we need to allocate significant funding to support law enforcement and compliance operations,” Marsh told the committee. “Jackson County alone has estimated a cost of $7.3 million per year to enable the county to adequately address illegal growth. Josephine County will likely have a similar need,” Marsh told the committee. “.

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Miller, president of the Oregon Wine Board, said vineyards are also feeling the impact of illegal pot farms.

“We are already facing challenges in finding enough workers to support our operations, particularly during peak harvest seasons,” Miller said. “The unfair and often illegal labor practices of these illegal operations exacerbate this problem by paying workers in cash at far higher wages than those of us who comply with all labor laws.”

With tons of marijuana recently harvested and the illegal business conducted largely for cash, militants are now assaulting illegal plantations and marijuana processing sites.

“Crews from eight different states have come to Jackson County to perform home invasion thefts of marijuana plantations or individuals associated with the marijuana industry with money,” Sickler said.

Representative John Lively, the committee’s chair, said committee members will work on drafting legislation to help the situation. But he noted that the next legislative session, which begins in February, is short, barely lasting a month, and gives little time for a set of bills to pass committees and both the House and Senate.

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“So the more complex the legislation, the more problematic it is,” Lively said. “So, how many problems are we trying to address or not address in the short session, versus something else?”

Marsh warned that there would be no quick fix.

“We know it will take several years of significant effort, maybe three to five years before we can expect to solve the problem,” she said.

Illegal plantations produce tons of marijuana that is sold out of state. Officials believe the foreign cartels chose southern Oregon because it is part of the legendary marijuana-growing emerald triangle, an area of ​​which California’s Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties make up the bulk.

Federal drug agents and representatives from the US Attorney’s Office in Oregon met Tuesday with local law enforcement and other officials to hear about the challenges they face.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel called it “the beginning of an interagency coordination meeting.”

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“We are all affected by the illegal market in so many ways that we need to work together as much as we can be,” Daniel said in an email. “The illegal marijuana market has no boundaries or borders.”

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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