Problems with Illegal marijuana have reached a new apex in the northwestern state of Oregon. State police on Saturday announced the discovery of a whopping 500,000 pounds, an estimated value of $500 million, of unlicensed cannabis products across five separate warehouses in rural Jackson and Josephine counties.
While uncovering the bootleg marijuana, police claimed to also find over 100 employees including many undocumented immigrants working in poor-quality conditions. Drug enforcement investigators allege ringleaders of the warehouses as well as the illegal cannabis farms used to grow the plant stole water from private sources in the midst of record droughts and provided “subpar” work environments for their migrant workers.
‘Out of control’
Speaking before a legislative committee in the state capital of Salem, Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said crime in the county of about 230,000 people has spiraled out of control. Sickler said the illegal marijuana operations have contributed to an increase in violent crime and burglaries as well as traffic and even sex offenses.
“It is certainly an issue we deal with on a daily basis here,” Sickler testified.
This weekend’s bust comes less than two months after local commissioners from both Jackson and Josephine counties issued emergency declarations, asking Gov. Kate Brown and state lawmakers for extra funding to crack down on illegal cannabis farms.
On Oct. 24, the same day Josephine officials issued its state of emergency, drug enforcement agencies discovered another illegal farm with 4,000 pounds of processed marijuana and over 17,000 cannabis plants.
Black market growth
Voters in Oregon approved recreational marijuana legal on the 2014 ballot. But bootleg cannabis farmers, poising as legal hemp growers, have flocked to rural areas to grow and ship marijuana outside the state. By doing so, they earn higher profits and avoid paying taxes on the plant.
The two state bodies charged with regulating cannabis reported in September that over half of registered hemp farms inspected in the state in 2021 were found to be illegally growing cannabis with THC levels higher than the federally permitted maximum of 0.3 percent.
Nearly a quarter of registered hemp farms had attempted to block Oregon regulators from entering, according to the state reports. Police have regularly found unlicensed firearms on the illegal marijuana farms as well.
The Oregon State Police said the ongoing warehouse investigation will last several weeks.