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Illegal cannabis growers on notice

Local law enforcement agencies and county prosecutors are preparing to tackle illegal marijuana growing operations when the summer growing season begins. The new Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team, funded through a state grant, should be welcome news to rural residents and to those licensed growers trying to play by the rules, but it’s unfortunate that it had to come to this.

Since legalization of recreational marijuana took full effect in 2016, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, code enforcement officials and county commissioners have been inundated with complaints about grows, and marijuana-related crimes have put pressure on law enforcement.

Much of the responsibility for that outcome lies with state lawmakers and regulators, who lifted an initial ban on out-of-state interests moving in and set no limit on the number of growers.

The result has been a huge overproduction of marijuana, sending retail prices tumbling and increasing the incentive for unscrupulous growers to ship their crops out of Oregon and cash in on the black market in states where the drug remains illegal.

One of the arguments in favor of legalization was that it would relieve police agencies from arresting people on marijuana possession and distribution charges by bringing that activity out of the shadows and regulating it. Instead, law enforcement is having to cope with the result of too many growers competing in a limited retail market confined to the state of Oregon by federal restrictions on interstate transport.

Eventually, Congress will probably come to its senses and legalize cannabis nationally. But until that happens, local law enforcement can hardly turn a blind eye to illegal growing and smuggling operations.

Those engaged in that activity are now on notice that ignoring the law comes with consequences. And licensed growers trying to survive in a flawed marketplace have a strong interest in supporting law enforcement’s efforts to clean up the mess left by state officials.