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Oregon County Declares Emergency Due to High Number of Illegal Cannabis Farms

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Oct 14, 2021   
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A county in southern Oregon has declared a local state of emergency due to the sheer number of illegal cannabis farms and related cannabis crimes in the area.

In a statement published on October 13, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners said that criminal activity relating to marijuana production has “dramatically increased” since Oregon residents voted to legalize cannabis in 2014.

According to the statement, the county’s police services and agencies have struggled to investigate many of these illegal grow sites and crimes due to a lack of resources and funding.

Now, under the new state of emergency, the county has requested more revenue and resources from Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, so the penalties for cannabis crimes can be properly enforced.

Illegal grows in a legal state

According to the Jackson County statement, the number of illegal cannabis operations and related crimes have rocketed since legal cannabis sales began in Oregon in 2015.

That same year, there were 604 recorded violations of the Jackson County Code, none of which were related to marijuana production or processing.

But as of this September, a total of 1,006 violations have been recorded, 663 of which (65 percent) related to marijuana production or processing.

“As compared to 2014 […] to today, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has seen a 59 percent increase in calls for service including, but not limited to, burglary, theft, assault, robbery, and nuisance crimes associated with the marijuana industry,” the statement reads.

A significant portion of these crimes relate to illegal water use, which often involves water resources being illegally tapped to quench clandestine cultivation operations. As Jackson County now faces annual droughts, this water misuse has led to a sharp increase in official county complaints.

“In 2021, year-to-date, District 13 has received 195 complaints related to the use of water in Jackson County, for a projected 275 complaints for all of 2021,” the statement reads.

“Due to the limits caused by the current size of the District 13 staff, of the 195 complaints received in 2021, year-to-date, District 13 has been unable to take any action on 82 of those complaints.”

This lack of staff, funding, and resources to deal with illegal cannabis crimes can partly be blamed on a recent reduction in state funding from legal cannabis sales, according to the Jackson statement.

“Prior to January 1, 2021, Jackson County received approximately $700,000, on average, per quarter in revenue for each of the previous four quarters as its share of the distribution of the statewide tax on the retail sale of marijuana,” the statement reads.

This funding was reduced following the approval of Ballot Measure 110 – the ballot to decriminalize drug use and fund addiction treatment services in Oregon – which voters approved last November.

“The effect of Ballot Measure 110 is nearly a 75 percent reduction in the ongoing revenue to Jackson County from the distribution of the proceeds of the statewide tax on the retail sale of marijuana,” the Jackson statement reads.

In its appeal to the state governor, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has requested that the clause of Ballot Measure 110 that diverted its funding be repealed. The deployment of the Oregon National Guard “to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis” has also been requested.

The state of Oregon’s illegal cannabis

Despite growing sales of legal cannabis, illegal cannabis operations seem to be on the rise in Oregon. Many of these grow sites appear to disguise themselves as legally compliant hemp farms.

Recent inspections of hemp farms in southern Oregon found that multiple plants, on over 100 grow sites, tested positive for excessive levels of THC.

Test results from 212 of these sites showed that 58 percent of the samples tested positive for THC (114 tested positive and 98 tested negative). One sample tested at 32.9 percent THC, over 100 times the federal limit.


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