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Landowners warned about renting to illegal pot growers

Landowners can face massive fines for allowing illegal marijuana grows on their property. Photo courtesy Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
Warning included in Jackson County property tax bills

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is warning property owners they could face huge fines and even criminal charges if they lease their land to people growing illegal marijuana.

The warning letter by Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler went out with this fall’s property tax bills.

Josephine County also sent out a warning in its property tax bills this fall, telling property owners they could lose their land through civil forfeiture for illegally growing marijuana or allowing someone else to do it.

Sickler said the Rogue Valley has seen a massive influx of cannabis cultivation over the last year. While most growers are following regulations and doing the right thing, many are not.

“One particular issue we wanted to address with property owners in Jackson County is the many instances of land being leased for cannabis cultivation,” Sickler said in the letter. “We are finding many land leasers have been less than honest with the property owners about what they are cultivating, as well as what permitting and licensing have been obtained.”

Local law enforcement agencies, state regulators, Jackson County code enforcement and the watermaster in Jackson County have teamed up to tackle some of the illegal grows proliferating across the valley.

“While the individuals leasing the land have been cited for multiple violations and in some cases arrested, the property owner can also be held liable for what is occurring on their land,” Sickler warned in the letter. “This can include structures being built without permitting. In some cases, there could be criminal culpability depending on the circumstances. I am encouraging you to do your due diligence prior to leasing out your property, and to ensure those wishing to cultivate cannabis on your land are properly permitted and licensed.”

The letter said landowners can get more information at jacksoncountyor.org/sheriff/Outreach/Property-Liabilities.

The website provides sample images of a hemp license, a medical marijuana license and a recreational marijuana license so landowners can see what the licenses should look like if they’re approached by a grower wanting to lease land.

Landowners can confirm whether a would-be hemp grower has a legitimate license by contacting the Oregon Department of Agriculture. A relative of marijuana, hemp doesn’t contain high levels of THC, which gets users high.

Even if they confirm a hemp license is legitimate, landowners don’t have any assurances that the grower is actually raising hemp. ODA tested hundreds of local licensed hemp grow sites and found 54% were growing plants with high THC levels, indicating they might be fronts for illegal marijuana.

Growing hemp comes with far fewer regulations than growing marijuana, so some people grow marijuana under the guise of hemp.

State agencies that govern medical and recreational marijuana grows won’t confirm whether someone has permission to grow marijuana, according to the Jackson County website.

This growing season, many greenhouses sprouted up across Southern Oregon. Property owners can be held liable for greenhouses built without Jackson County permits. Each greenhouse can generate a fine of up to $13,000, according to the website.

Some growers have put up dozens of greenhouses per site. An October bust in Douglas County revealed an illegal grow with more than 100 greenhouses.

Agencies that have raided grows this summer and fall said they often find deplorable living and working conditions at sites.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration can levy fines of $250 to $126,749 for failing to register a farm labor camp, the Jackson County website said.

Property owners could be held liable for labor violations, including not following safeguards to prevent heat stress, not providing proper sanitation, exposing workers to pesticides and not providing safe and adequate labor housing, the website said.

Jackson County Code Enforcement officers said they’ve seen people living and working inside dangerously hot greenhouses. Other problems include illegal electrical wiring that could cause fires, human waste, lack of water for sanitation, and children at grow sites.

The county has regularly been issuing citations between $50,000 and $150,000, according to Jackson County Code Enforcement.

The website warns that property owners could face civil and criminal penalties for illegal use of water. Penalties can be up to $1,000 a day.

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