Oregon is taking measures to deal with illegal marijuana growers that are connected to drug cartels, especially in southern Oregon. In Jackson County, the illegal production of marijuana in the community poses such a threat to public safety that authorities requested the help of the state National Guard troops in an attempt to stem the illegal cultivation, according to High Times.
Similarly, The Register-Guard reports “Many of the illegal marijuana grows in Klamath County have been linked to national and international criminal organizations — and the breadth of the problem has overwhelmed local law enforcement and justice systems and has begun to deplete county resources.”
In October alone, two major busts led to the seizure of more than $120 million worth of marijuana that had it made it to the illegal market. Sergeant Cliff Barden of the Oregon State Police Basin Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team stated that cartels “are intentionally trying to overwhelm the system,” adding, “Almost all of the large grows — with dozens and dozens of greenhouses or even more, especially this year — have all been the exact same type of operations that are all coordinated from out of state, run by some mid-level person connected to Mexico.”
Part of the problem is that many of the illegal farms are using legal hemp farms to shield their activities. According to the Epoch Times, “the Oregon Health Authority reports that nearly half of the registered hemp farms inspected in Oregon are illegally growing marijuana” and “another 25 percent of registered hemp farms won’t allow state inspectors in, allowing growers to “thumb their noses at law enforcement with no consequence.” Worse still, because these growers work under the cloak of secrecy, it allows them to hide a myriad of human rights violations, including human trafficking, forced labor, and unsafe living conditions for workers.
So pervasive is this problem that Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said “We are finding that 75 to 80 percent of these registered hemp grows are growing illegal marijuana, adding “There are probably three or four times the amount of unregistered hemp grows than there are registered grows.”
The unfortunate reality is that when billions of dollars are on the line, almost anything can and does happen. As Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel points out, “That’s why the cartels are here. Some people will do anything for that kind of money. Murder. Rape. Traffic human beings.” Raids of farms have shown widespread degradation of immigrant workers. As reported in The Beaver State Bulletin, “Josephine County Commissioners wrote to [Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney] in August describing the exploitation and ‘appalling conditions’ of migrant workers, with no toilets, no running water or bathing facilities, unrefrigerated food and unsanitary cooking facilities, and living in tents.”
The scope of illegal labor importation and exploitation is staggering. Oregon state Rep. Lily Morgan states,“We estimate that about 10,000 migrant workers have been brought to the county by bus and truck,” Morgan explained in an interview. “One day they are in Southern California holding up a sign looking for work and the next day they’re dropped off in Oregon without identification or money and they don’t speak English.” Worse still, the workers live in fear of their lives. Daniel explained.“These people are narco-slaves. They are afraid that the cartels will kill them or their families back home, so they don’t talk.” Such use of fear helps perpetuate the secrecy of the farms.
So vast is the problem that police are are at a loss to how to combat it. A closer examination of the cartels involved reveals they are highly structured, organized, funded, and savvy when it comes to concealing their illegal operations. An article from Oregon Live describes the level of subterfuge the cartels employ to keep ahead of law enforcement:
“Big-time drug traffickers aren’t easy to take down, not even in a small Oregon city where cops can see what they’re doing. They rarely handle the drugs they sell. They switch phones and cars often. They silence associates with threats and violence. Most troubling, the smartest traffickers use the same surveillance tools on police that police use on them.”
To make matters worse, there is a crime spillover effect from the illicit marijuana operations. Dyer states, “Law enforcement in Jackson County reports a 59% increase in calls for service associated with the marijuana industry, including burglary, theft, assault, robbery and nuisance crimes.” Moreover, people who are unfortunate enough to be neighbors of the cartel’s marijuana farms have their lives turned upside down. Morgan describes “People who were living on a quiet rural property suddenly find themselves surrounded on all sides by new landowners conducting industrial operations 24 hours a day seven days a week. They drive trucks in and out and run generators 24 hours a day. They shoot guns at all hours. They blare music all night.”
And because these are large-scale operations, they use incredible amounts of water, which the cartels take illegally. Take for example Jack Dwyer, who in 1972 bought a parcel in Oregon with Deer Creek running through it. So bad is the poaching of water by the cartels that Deer Creek is effectively now a dry gulch. As Daniel puts it, “They had actually dug holes into the ground so deep that Deer Creek had dried up … and they were down into the water table.”
It took a while, but Klamath County Sheriff Chris Klaber has finally recognized the breadth and scope of the illegal marijuana trade in Oregon, stating, “I’ve had to completely readjust my sense of where we are in fighting illegal marijuana production in Klamath. I didn’t think we were this far behind. This really is—and I’ve said it before—organized criminal activity. This definitely fits the definition in Oregon of what organized criminal activity is.”
If you are an advocate of legalizing marijuana then you must recognize the existential threat this imposes on our society. To begin with, we cannot condone such illegal operations, especially the wholesale exploitation of workers. Secondly, if these types of operations are not brought under control, the problems they cause may down the road auger opposition to continuing the trend of liberalizing access to marijuana.
This means that local and state authorities, with appropriate guidelines, must authorize and fund law-enforcement authorities to take down these operations. Furthermore, states need to examine the level of taxation along with regulatory fees and hurdles that often make legal marijuana so expensive that an illegal market is in high demand. Failure to do so may result in jeopardizing all of the progress that has been made thus far.
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