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Overwhelmed by illegal pot grows, Jackson County declares state of emergency, seeks state help

By ANDREW SELSKY
Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Southern Oregon's Jackson County says it is so overwhelmed by an increase in the number and size of illegal marijuana farms that it declared a state of emergency Wednesday, appealing to the governor and the Legislature’s leaders for help.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners said law enforcement officers and county and state regulators and code enforcers are overwhelmed and warned of an “imminent threat to the public health and safety of our citizens from the illegal production of cannabis in our county.”

Illegal marijuana grows have been a persistent problem throughout the West, even in states like California that have legalized pot. A megadrought across the West has created urgency, though, as illegal growers steal water, depriving legal users including farmers and homeowners of the increasingly precious resource.

“Jackson County strongly requests your assistance to address this emergency,” the commissioners said in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Only four Oregon Water Resources Department full-time employees handle complaints and perform all of their other duties in Jackson County and neighboring Josephine County, the commissioners said.

Josephine County has also been hurt by illegal grows that have drained creeks and siphoned off groundwater. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel believes there are hundreds of illegal operations in his county alone. One with 72,000 marijuana plants that was drawing water from the Illinois River was raided after a dying person who worked there was dropped off in a nearby village.

Oregon voters made producing, processing, selling and using recreational marijuana legal in a ballot measure in 2014. Pot businesses must be registered by the state, which enforces compliance with rules. But some growers and processers remain outside the law, joined by a recent influx of outsiders in Jackson and Josephine counties who seek large profits by selling on the black market outside of Oregon while avoiding state taxes and regulations.

The illegal marijuana farms are often posing as legal hemp farms, the commissioners noted. The Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission recently reported that nearly 50% of registered hemp farms inspected in the state are illegally growing marijuana, with a THC content — the compound that gives cannabis its high — greater than legal limits.

About 25% of registered hemp farms refused entry to inspectors, the state agencies said. In busts of illegal marijuana grows, sheriff’s deputies have often seized firearms.

By September of this year, the Jackson County Code Enforcement Division initiated almost 700 cases of code violations related to marijuana production or processing, more than double the number in all of 2016, the commissioners said in their emergency declaration.

Reacting to the commissioner’s letter, Brown’s spokesman, Charles Boyle, said the governor takes these concerns very seriously.

He noted that after the Legislature passed a bill this year that shifted how the state regulates the hemp industry and was aimed at curbing illegal production of cannabis, Brown created a multi-agency team to implement the legislation.

She also authorized doubling the size of cannabis law enforcement grants in the region and directed the Oregon State Police to dedicate additional resources.

“The message is clear — Oregon is not open for business to illegal cannabis grows,” Boyle said. “These are criminal enterprises that deplete water resources while our state is in drought, hold their workforce in inhumane conditions and severely harm our legal cannabis marketplace.”

The Associated Press

Comments

20 Comments

    1. They are not asking for help. They are telling the state to do its job. How many illegal grows are found in Idaho? HINT: not many. Idaho actually enforces its drug laws. Imagine that.

      1. Then maybe the county should collect enough tax dollars to hire a few police officers, instead of relying on the “nanny state”, as your crowd likes to call it.

  1. I thought the politicians stated that if we legalize MJ, they would be able to control it’s use and make big money through taxation of it . . . Instead, the black market has increased the production of illegal MJ.

    1. You’re assuming that the legal market doesn’t have any sales. But given the number of legal operations, I’m pretty sure they’re selling something.

      But yes, in states where it’s illegal, there’s a booming black market.

    2. as always you spout off with ignorance. The black market has not increased, it has gone down. The biggest issue is other states not legalizing and the feds keeping this absurd plant illegal at their level despite the fact that over 2/3 of the states have some form of legal access. If they were all legal, there would be little market demand. it’s pretty simple. Legalize it!

  2. Isn’t this the county that refuses to fund law enforcement to the same level as the rest of the state, because they don’t want to pay for it with taxes? You reap what you sow, boys. Don’t come looking to us for help because you don’t want to pay for it like the rest of us.

    1. I had forgotten about that. I think you are right. But, in this case, I support the County, if only to bring the Legislature-caused problem into public debate.

  3. Just investigate ALL of the remaining hemp farmers. The only way that snake oil makes any money for most farmers is by growing actual pot amongst the hemp, and selling it on the black market.

  4. That county has always been the capital of black market in Oregon, this is nothing new. Legalize it at the fed level and you won’t have much of a market left to sell to. People are still selling in NYC for $6k a pound. That is about to change.

  5. Come on people. Be creative. Put together a Burning Man type festival to “handle” this issue. Participants of the festival will gather up all the illegal weed and put it in a huge pile. Then comes the fun part. The fire. Plus the whole area downwind will be happy at least for a few hours and the food concessions will make a killing. Problem solved.

  6. “The crisis of our diminishing water resources is just as severe (if less obviously immediate) as any wartime crisis we have ever faced. Our survival is just as much at stake as it was at the time of Pearl Harbor, or the Argonne, or Gettysburg, or Saratoga.”

    Jim Wright

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