The province of Oregon has declared a state of emergency on marijuana farms

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – A province in southern Oregon said it was overwhelmed by the increase in the number and size of illegal marijuana farms it declared a state of emergency Wednesday, appealing to the governor and leaders of the Legislature for help.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners said county and state law enforcement officials and advocates and code enforcers were overreacting and warned of an “imminent threat to the public health and safety of our citizens from illegal cannabis production in our province. “

Illegal marijuana growth has become a recurring problem throughout the West, even in states like California that have made pot legal. A megadrought across the West has created urgency, though, as illegal growers are stealing water, depriving legal users including farmers and homeowners of an increasingly vital resource.

“Jackson County strongly requests your help to address this emergency,” the commissioners said in a letter to Governor Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Only four Oregon Water Resources Department employees handle complaints and perform all of their other duties in Jackson County and nearby Josephine County, commissioners said.

Josephine County was also hit by illegal growers that drained streams and submerged groundwater. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel believes there were hundreds of illegal operations in his county alone. One with 72,000 marijuana plants drawing water from an Illinois river was attacked after a dying man working there fell in a nearby village.

Oregon voters legalized the manufacture, processing, sale and use of recreational marijuana on a ballot measure in 2014. Pot businesses must be state -registered, which enforces compliance with the rules. But some growers and processors remain outside the law, joining a recent influx of outsiders in Jackson and Josephine counties seeking big profits by selling on the black market outside of Oregon while avoiding the taxes and state regulations.

Illegal marijuana farms often pretend to be legal hemp farms, commissioners said. The Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission recently reported that nearly 50% of registered hemp farms inspected in the state are illegally growing marijuana, which contains THC – the compound that gives cannabis high – greater than legal limits.

Nearly 25% of registered hemp farms refused to enter inspectors, state agencies said. With busts of illegal marijuana growing, sheriff’s deputies often take guns.

As of September of this year, the Jackson County Code Enforcement Division had initiated nearly 700 cases of code violations related to the manufacture or processing of marijuana, more than double the number throughout 2016, commissioners said in their declaration. emergency.

In response to the commissioner’s letter, Brown’s spokesman Charles Boyle said the governor takes these concerns very seriously.

He said that after the Legislature passed a bill this year that changed how the state regulates the hemp industry and aims to curb the illegal manufacture of cannabis, Brown created a multi -agency team to enforce the law.

He also allowed doubling the size of grants enforcing cannabis law in the region and instructed the Oregon State Police to allocate additional resources.

“The message is clear – Oregon is not open to the illegal cannabis business growing,” Boyle said. “These are criminal businesses that are consuming water resources while our state is on thirst, holding their workers in inhumane conditions and severely damaging our legal cannabis market.”

For his part, Kotek spokesman Danny Moran said his office is reviewing the issues raised by Jackson County Commission Chair Rick Dyer and Commissioners Dave Dotterrer and Colleen Roberts and “expects further talks about the best path forward. “

The commissioners said their code enforcement staff would have to triple to nine officers; more officers are needed to judge the volume of citations; the sheriff’s office needs 34 more staff, including 18 detectives; and the state Department of Water Resources needs three more full-time staff dedicated solely to investigating water-related complaints.

To reach those levels, the commissioners asked for additional state employees, state funding for the province to hire employees and contractors and for a ban on local taxes on registered, legal marijuana business.

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