SALEM (Ore.) – A southern Oregon county declared a state emergency Wednesday in response to an increase in illegal marijuana farms. It appealed to the governor and legislators for assistance.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners stated that law enforcement officers, county and state regulators, and code enforcers are overwhelmed. They warned of an “imminent danger to the public safety and health of our citizens from illegal cannabis production in our county .”
Illegal cannabis grows have been a problem in the West for years, even in states such as California that have legalized it. The West is experiencing a massive drought, and illegal growers are stealing water from farmers, homeowners, and other legal users.
“Jackson County sincerely requests your assistance in this matter,” the commissioners wrote to Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney, and House Speaker Tina Kotek.
Only 4 full-time employees of Oregon Water Resources Department handle complaints and do all other duties in Jackson County or nearby Josephine County, according to the commissioners.
Josephine County also has been affected by illegal grows, which have drained streams and siphoned off groundwater. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel claims that there are hundreds of illegal businesses in his county. 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 legalized the production, processing, sale, and use of recreational marijuana in a ballot measure in 2014.. The state must register pot businesses to ensure compliance with regulations. Some growers and processors are still not subject to the law. This is due to a recent influx from Jackson and Josephine county outsiders who seek large profits selling pot on the black market, outside Oregon, and avoiding taxes and regulations.
Illegal marijuana farms often pose as legal hemp farms, commissioners pointed out. According to the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, nearly 50% hemp farms that were inspected in the state recently had a higher than legal THC content.
Information 25% about registered hemp farms denied entry to inspectors, state agencies stated. Sheriff’s deputies often seize firearms when they bust illegal marijuana growers.
In September this year, almost 700 cases involving code violations in marijuana production and processing were initiated by the Jackson County Code Enforcement Division. This is more than twice the number of 2016, cases the commissioners stated in an emergency declaration.
Reacting on the letter from the commissioner, Brown’s spokesperson, Charles Boyle, stated that the governor takes these concerns very seriously.
He stated that the Legislature had passed a bill in this year’s legislative session that changed the state’s regulation of the hemp industry. It was intended to curb illegal cannabis production. Brown set up a multi-agency team for the implementation of the legislation.
She also authorized the doubling of the cannabis law enforcement grants for the region and directed that the Oregon State Police dedicate additional resources.
” The message is clear – Oregon is not open to legal cannabis growers,” Boyle stated. These are criminal enterprises that drain water resources, keep their workforce in inhumane conditions, and seriously harm our legal cannabis market .”
Kotek’s spokesperson Danny Moran stated that her office was reviewing the Jackson County Commission Chair Rick Dyer, Commissioners Dave Dotterrer, and Colleen Robs. She said she “looks forward” to having further discussions about the best way forward .”
The commissioners stated that their code enforcement team needs to be tripled to nine officers. They also need more officers to adjudicate volume of citations. The sheriff’s department needs 34 more staffers including 18 detectives. And the state Water Resources Department requires three additional full-time staff members who are dedicated to investigating water-related complaints.
To reach these levels, the commissioners requested additional state employees, funding for the county to hire workers and contractors, and for a repealing of the prohibition on local taxes for registered legal marijuana businesses.
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