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Forum will explore illegal pot impact

Southern Oregon law enforcement agencies have been raiding illegal marijuana grows all summer and fall, but believe they’ve only put a dent in the problem. Photo courtesy Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
Illegal marijuana, hemp operations widespread

State Rep. Pam Marsh will host an online forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday about the impacts to Southern Oregon from illegal marijuana and hemp operations.

The Zoom videoconference link to attend is https://bit.ly/3E2BPs3.

The meeting link can also be accessed at www.oregonlegislature.gov/marsh.

“This summer we all witnessed an extraordinary number of new grows spring up across the local landscape,” Marsh said. “My office has been inundated with inquiries and grievances from community members who are seeing and experiencing the impacts of illegal activity in their neighborhoods. This event is intended to help us all understand lessons learned so far, what is being done to address the problems, and how we can resolve them in the future.”

The community forum will provide an opportunity to hear from individuals and agencies on the front lines regarding issues that have emerged, including permitting, regulatory responses, law enforcement, code compliance, worker conditions, water usage, and past and potential future legislation.

On Oct. 13, Jackson County commissioners declared a state of emergency, saying the boom in illegal operations has overwhelmed the ability of law enforcement, code enforcement and irrigation water regulators to enforce local and state laws.

During busts at illegal grows in Southern Oregon, police have found workers living in squalid conditions, illegal electrical wiring that poses fire hazards, misused chemicals and other environmental damage, guns, unauthorized greenhouses and marijuana worth millions on the black market.

State tests at legal, registered hemp grows allegedly have found the majority contain illegal marijuana. Growing hemp, which doesn’t get users high, comes with far fewer regulations, prompting marijuana growers to hide behind the front of a registered hemp grow.

Police believe the number of illegal marijuana and hemp grows equal or exceed the number of registered grows. They think foreign drug cartels are behind some of the illegal grows.

Illegal operators undercut legal marijuana and hemp businesses, and don’t pay taxes that support an array of public services. Police regularly respond to violent crime tied to marijuana.

Spanish and American Sign Language interpretation will be available during the forum.

Forum presenters will include:

  • Obie Strickler, the owner of a legal marijuana business and a member of the Jackson County Marijuana Advisory Council
  • Oregon Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Lauren Henderson, hemp program manager Michael Odenthal and cannabis policy and special projects coordinator Sunny Summers
  • Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission Executive Director Steve Marks
  • Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler
  • Jackson County Code Enforcement Supervisor Alicia Brown and Development Services Director Ted Zuk
  • Oregon Water Resources Department Watermaster Shavon Haynes, whose coverage area is Jackson County
  • Unete Center for Farmworker Advocacy Executive Director Kathy Keesee

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