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Bill tackles worker exploitation at illegal pot grows

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office found workers sleeping on cardboard and living in squalid conditions during 2021 raids on illegal marijuana grows. Photo courtesy Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
Funding would aid organizations that help workers

The Oregon House of Representatives approved a bill Monday to address worker mistreatment and labor trafficking tied to illegal marijuana growing and distribution.

House Bill 4074B would provide $6 million in grant funding to community-based organizations responding to humanitarian concerns at illegal marijuana operations. Passed unanimously in the House, the bill with bipartisan support now moves to the Oregon Senate for consideration.

During 2021 raids at illegal marijuana sites, police found disturbing cases of workers living in squalid, dangerous conditions.

“I have been deeply troubled by the illegal activity we have seen in my community. We’ve heard about people living and working in desperate conditions without protection or safety measures,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, an Ashland Democrat who represents southern Jackson County. “This legislation provides critical funding to help our communities begin to understand and address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us.”

Raids revealed many workers are sleeping in tents or on shipping container floors, sometimes with nothing but pieces of cardboard for mattresses. They lack running water for drinking, showering, cleaning their clothes or using the toilet. They’re exposed to improperly used pesticides and illegal electrical wiring that could spark fires.

Temperatures inside marijuana greenhouses can soar well over 100 degrees.

Funding from House Bill 4074B would allow local organizations to provide services such as translation, housing and legal support to vulnerable workers, some of whom come from other countries. Workers and law enforcement have reported significant worker safety issues at illegal grows, including violence, threats, stolen wages and unsafe living and working conditions.

The bill also requires marijuana industry workers to report to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission or law enforcement if they have a reasonable belief that sex trafficking, human trafficking or the prohibited employment of a minor is occurring on the licensed premises.

During a 2021 special session, the legislature allocated $25 million to combat illegal marijuana activity in Oregon, including funding to help local governments with costs related to enforcement.

Illegal marijuana grows have sprouted throughout the state, but the illegal industry is worth billions of dollars in Southern Oregon counties with ideal growing climates. Law enforcement officials say many operations are backed by foreign drug cartels that traffic Oregon-grown marijuana to states where pot remains illegal.

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