So. Oregon police, politicians brief OLCC on battle against illegal cannabis

SOUTHERN OREGON, —The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission visiting southern Oregon Wednesday, for the first time since the pandemic, and talking cannabis. The hot topic of Wednesday’s discussion is the illegal cannabis industry in our region.

People in the cannabis industry, social service agencies dealing with the impact of illegal activity, and local law enforcement all attended. The purpose is to educate the OLCC on how it can control unlicensed and illegal cannabis activity.

“We’re gonna pay we’ll pay you 100 bucks an hour to trim marijuana who yeah, that’s big money, you know, and now and there’s this rumors that going on even in Mexico, we’ve heard the rumors going around that Oregon is the place to go,” said Kathy Keesee, Unite Program Coordinator.

These pictures show some of the horrendous living conditions social services agencies have run into, at illegal grow sites in southern Oregon. The trafficking situation, Unite Oregon says, is horrible.

“In the fields, there are a bit of woman being sold into prostitution, they work all day, during in the trimming bud in the in the fields and then in the evenings there prostituted by the growers there, there’s a heavy presence of firearms, long guns, pistols,” said Keesee.

In Wednesday’s meeting, legislators shared with the OLCC what is being done on at the state level to secure funding for law enforcement. Ashland State Representative Pam Marsh says the state has $6 million during a biennium that normally goes to funding law enforcement, that number was increased in 2021.

“If we don’t provide that ongoing funding, then we really hamper any kind of efforts because we don’t enable them or law enforcement agencies to hire and to really set up long-term success,” said Representative Marsh.

After looking at the situation on the ground, in last December’s special session, the legislature approved a total of $25 million. $20 million of that was to go to law enforcement, that money can also be used by counties for code compliance. $5 million was to go to the Water Resources Department, to fund watermaster support in counties impacted by illegal grows.  But that money is yet to be distributed, Marsh says she’s hopeful it will go out in a few weeks. She says Jackson and Josephine counties should receive a big chunk of that funding.

“What we’re trying to do here is establish first in these two counties and then statewide, a credible enforcement infrastructure, so that these folks who have come to take advantage of this state don’t find us easy pickings anymore,” said State Senator, Jeff Golden.

Despite this, OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks told us in our 5 On 5 Tuesday, the state is making an impact on the illegal marijuana grows plaguing southern Oregon. But he says a lot of work remains.

“Well, I think we made a dent. And I think that dent is showing up this time around, right, we’re seeing less of the folks come back. We’re not seeing the same kind of building at this point of the hoop house operations that were completely prolific last growth cycle,” said Marks.

One message everyone in attendance seemed to agree on, was the need to find a sustained funding stream, to really address the problem.

Sheriff Dave Daniel and Nathan Sickler were also both in attendance. They say from 2019 to 2021, Jackson County’s Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team seized over 700,000 plants. In Josephine County, that number is over 830,000.

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Jenna King
NBC5 News Reporter Jenna King is a Burbank native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at the U of O, she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through interning with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors, or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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