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Crackdown on illegal pot coming this summer

Illegal marijuana growers who have been flying under the radar are more likely to get caught this summer in Jackson County.

A new Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team will be in full swing by then, according to Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler.

The sheriff's office, Medford Police Department and Jackson County District Attorney's Office are teaming up to go after illegal marijuana grows and the illegal diversion of Oregon pot out of state.

Four detectives, a crime analyst and a prosecutor will work the cases.

Three of the detectives, the analyst and half of the prosecutor’s position are being funded by a $543,961 state grant.

Jackson County commissioners authorized an agreement with the state Wednesday to take part in the grant program.

Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana in the state with their approval of Measure 91 in 2014. But the state didn’t put a cap on the number of grows allowed in Oregon. That contributed to a glut of marijuana on the market, some of which is being illegally sold out of state.

Sickler said Oregon was woefully unprepared for the impacts of legalization, especially in Jackson and Josephine counties, which are prime areas for marijuana cultivation.

“Now we’re trying to play catch-up,” he said.

Sickler said law enforcement agencies, code enforcement workers and county commissioners have been inundated with complaints about grows.

Marijuana-related robberies, assaults, burglaries and thefts have strained law enforcement agencies, making it harder for them to handle other types of crime and calls for help, he said.

Having an Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team will help relieve the pressure, allowing the sheriff’s office to keep responding to traditional calls for service, Sickler said.

The new team will work with the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team, which has worked for years to stem illegal drug and gang activity. Having a marijuana team will allow MADGE to target methamphetamine and opioids like heroin, Sickler said.

The goal is not to go after the legal marijuana industry, he noted.

Sickler sits on the county’s Marijuana Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of the local recreational and medical marijuana industries.

“We work with growers — people who want this industry to thrive under the law and who do it legally,” he said.

People who engage in illegal marijuana activity give the industry a bad name and compete unfairly with growers who follow regulations, Sickler said.

“We need to learn how to co-exist in our valley with this new market, but we do need to make sure people are doing it legally,” he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.