Friday, January 14, 2022
Natalie Fertig has this great new (and lengthy) article in Politico Magazine about the persistent challenges posed by illegal marijuana market in a country that for now has only half-legalized the cannabis plant. The full title of this piece highlights its themes: "‘Talk About Clusterf---’: Why Legal Weed Didn’t Kill Oregon’s Black Market. Legalization was supposed to take care of the black market. It hasn’t worked out that way." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:
People have grown marijuana illegally in southern Oregon for at least half a century. It was easy to conceal illicit activity in private woods and national forests when the nearest human could easily be a few miles away. But there’s nothing hidden about what’s going on now.
The Red Mountain Golf Course, a 24-acre plot of land just outside Grants Pass, the county seat, sold for just over half a million dollars in June 2021. Three months later, Josephine County Sheriffs and Oregon State Troopers raided the former golf course and seized more than 4,000 marijuana plants and arrested two people on charges of felony marijuana manufacture. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Around the same time, law enforcement seized 380 pounds of processed marijuana stuffed in a car abandoned at the scene of a crash. Cops also seized 7,600 marijuana and hemp plants, 5,000 pounds of processed marijuana and $210,000 in cash from two grow operations just outside Cave Junction. Two men were arrested and held for unlawful manufacture of a marijuana item and other charges.
While these eye-popping figures draw headlines, the raids are just a cost of doing business for the cartels, according to law enforcement officials. Many buy or lease six or seven properties, knowing that some might get shut down by the police. Like any smart entrepreneurs, the cartels budget for those losses....
The proliferation of unlicensed cannabis farms is scaring local residents and scarring the landscape. Personal wells have run dry and rivers have been illegally diverted. Piles of trash litter abandoned grow sites. Locals report having knives pulled on them, and growers showing up on their porches with guns to make demands about local water use. Multiple women say they’ve been followed long distances by strange vehicles. Locals regularly end conversations with an ominous warning: “Be careful.”...
Earlier in the year, the legislature passed a bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Lily Morgan, that increased penalties for growing cannabis illegally and gave state regulators the authority to investigate hemp growers.
Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler says the tougher rules for hemp cultivation and the money lawmakers funneled to local enforcement efforts are an excellent start. “If we’re able to get our positions funded, I really think we can make a significant impact [on] illegal marijuana,” said Sickler. “Are they going to go away? It’s probably never going to happen.”...
There are as many suggested solutions to southern Oregon’s weed problem as there are factors creating it. Some say tweaks to federal and state hemp regulations — and more money for law enforcement — will get the illicit grows under control. Others argue that only federal decriminalization will solve the problem, because it would reduce the market for illicit weed. Anti-legalization advocates, meanwhile, point to Oregon’s woes as proof that legalization doesn’t live up to its promise of eliminating the illicit market.