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Deschutes County receives renewed federal grant to continue effort targeting illegal marijuana grows

(Updated: adding video, comments from sheriff's deputy)

Sheriff's office says 'black market' grows still on the rise

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Law enforcement agencies have gotten another federal grant to fund a program targeting the illegal marijuana industry in Central Oregon. It's a program of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office and Bend Police Department -- and those involved say the problem is growing and needs the added focus.

The program began in 2018, but a sheriff's deputy tells NewsChannel 21 that the illegal marijuana industry is always changing -- keeping the need strong.

Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp said Tuesday there's been a rise in black market marijuana grows.

"I would say that in the last three years we've probably become overwhelmed with it," Vander Kamp said.

The Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program or IMMEG, assists local law enforcement agencies in addressing unlawful marijuana cultivation or distribution operations.

The local law enforcement agencies have noted their biggest problems being staffing shortages, training needs and challenges with the geography of the area. In the IMMEG application, the agencies listed that crimes related to unlicensed marijuana grows are "extreme."

Vander Kamp says hemp farmers with an illegal amount of THC, along with Mexican cartels, are becoming some of Central Oregon's biggest drug-related issues.

And with illegal drugs comes other crimes.

"The biggest thing is that these cases have become so complex," Vander Kamp said. "With this comes human trafficking, financial crimes, money laundering."

The new 2021-23 grant of $556,089 continues the program that began in 2018-19, funding detectives who work with the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team, along with part-time work on data collection and community engagement.

"The need for this grant is high," Vander Kamp said.

"We're going to be the next Jackson or Josephine county -- we're not far from that," he added. "They started requesting emergency assistance from the governor and another couple big grows, and we won't be far behind that."

The money comes from the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a Drug Enforcement Administration program that focuses on drug trafficking corridors such as U.S. Highway 97.

County commissioners accepted the grant award on Monday and are scheduled to adopt a resolution Wednesday regarding the additional staffing it will fund.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.


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