Oregon’s Legislature has approved $25 million in funding to combat the illegal cultivation of cannabis in the state, the Associated Press reports. The funds will be used by law enforcement agencies and community organizations to pay for the costs of busting industrial-scale, unlicensed, operations.
The bill approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor establishes the “Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program” which will be administered by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. The bill dedicated $5 million for enforcing water rights.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler told lawmakers the cartels “have a business model” for the illegal grows:
“Put up more cannabis illegal grows than law enforcement can ever get. They know we’re going to get some, but they know we can’t get it all.” — Sickler via the AP
Democratic state Sen. Jeff Golden described some rural areas in the state as “military-weapons zones, like the ones we usually associate with failed states.”
“Illegal cannabis operations in southern Oregon have been using our limited water supply, abusing local workers, threatening neighbors, and negatively impacting businesses run by legal marijuana growers,” he said in the report.
A farmer in southern Oregon testified that an illegal cannabis farm siphoned water from the creek he uses to irrigate his crops and dried it up. The farmer said that local landowners sell or lease property to bad actors.
“If somebody walks onto your property with a suitcase with $100,000 in $20 bills, you kind of know they’re not on the up and up,” the farmer said in an interview with the AP who chose to remain anonymous because of fear of retribution from cartels. “And if you take that money and allow them to do something on your land, you should probably anticipate that they’re there to break the law.”
Officials claim that many of the illegal cannabis operations are disguised as hemp farms, and an Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) report released last October found that 54% of hemp farms in southern Oregon were actually growing THC-rich cannabis.