Oregon was one of the first states in the U.S. to legalize adult-use marijuana and open dispensaries over six years ago. Its market is known for being one of the most accessible for business owners wanting to stake their claim in the flourishing industry. No lengthy applications or limited licenses — getting the thumbs up to run a cannabis store is as easy as getting a liquor license.
Yet plenty of black market sellers still insist on doing it illegally. And the bootleg cannabis market has gotten so bad for one county in southwest Oregon, that officials on Wednesday asked the governor’s office for help.
Commissioners from Jackson County, located in the southwest part of the state and home of popular city Medford, submitted a memo to Gov. Kate Brown and state lawmakers saying its police department and code enforcers are overwhelmed. With up to 1,000 illegal growing operations in the county of about 230,000 people, the commissioners warned of an “imminent threat to the public health and safety” from the illegal production of cannabis,” unless the state helps eradicate the problem.
“(previous marijuana laws) did not provide enough resources, or enough time, to begin to adequately attempt to address the situation in our County,” the letter says.
The emergency memo requests state funds to triple the county’s code enforcement staff and add nearly three dozen staffers to its police department.
Voters in Oregon approved recreational marijuana legal on the 2014 ballot. But bootleg cannabis farmers, poising as legal hemp growers, have flocked to Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties 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 last month that over half of registered hemp farms inspected in the state this year 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 have also 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.
Jackson County reported almost 700 code violations related to illegal cannabis so far this year, through September. According to the emergency declaration, that number is double the number of marijuana violations reported in all of 2016.