Discussion panel featuring local and state leaders address illegal marijuana grows

SOUTHERN OREGON — Earlier this evening, a panel discussed the ongoing marijuana crisis in the southern Oregon community.

8 panelists – including local and state leaders, as well as law enforcement and the Jackson County Watermaster – spoke about the cannabis industry via zoom Wednesday night.

The discussion between the state and county leaders focused on the issues around illegal grows and what’s happening to help eradicate those issues.

“The challenge we face is kind of two-fold – the magnitude of the illegal production kind of puts a black eye on the legal industry, you know, those of us who are taking the right approach going through licensing, working with the state, the county, and the city,” said CEO for local cannabis farm Grown Rogue, Obie Strickler. He explained how this perception of illegal marijuana affects his business model.

The panel came together to discuss the roles they play, whether it’s licensing, regulating, or enforcing the industry.

“For me as a sheriff, and primarily law enforcement perspective, is getting rid of bad actors, so to speak, so the legal industry can do what they need to accomplish,” said Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler.

This discussion comes after both Jackson and Josephine County Sheriff’s Office released numbers on the number of arrests and illegal marijuana plants seized in 2021.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office says it made 60 arrests, seized around 650,000 live marijuana plants, and took over 2.3 million dollars in criminal forfeiture.

The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office says it made 52 arrests, seized over 680,000 marijuana plants, and took over 1.7 million dollars in criminal forfeiture.

“In order to get money in a special session, you need an urgent emergency, and ours was we need boots on the ground. We need law enforcement, code enforcement, water enforcement, we need human rights help,” said State Senator, Jeff Golden.

Senator Golden says a bill passed in mid-December allocating $20 million towards law enforcement combating illegal grows.

The issue around illegal marijuana farms was also addressed by an Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesman, Michael Odenthal.

“I can tell you, we are seeing it, illegal grows, in every county, we’re visiting because of what we’ve learned down here from you guys, we’ve learned how to recognize what’s likely and it’s very easy to spot them nowadays,” Odenthal said.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler says it’s not an issue that will be fixed overnight, but he expects the situation to improve over the next couple of years.

“We’re going to do our best, I can guarantee you we are going to do our best, I can’t tell you the measure of success we’ll have but I can guarantee you the effort will be there and that we’re very results-oriented, not just effort oriented,” said Sheriff Sickler.

The panel discussion lasted for about an hour. It concluded with a 15-minute long Q&A.

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Mariah Mills
NBC5 News reporter Mariah Mills is a Medford native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor's Degree in journalism. She also minored in sociology. In school, she covered Oregon athletics for the student-run television station, Duck TV. When she's not reporting, she’s reading, hiking and rooting for her favorite teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks.
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