Oregon bill would limit hemp licensing in effort to fight outlaw pot farms

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A bill being proposed in the Oregon legislature would authorize state agriculture officials to limit industrial hemp licenses as one way to crack down on illegal marijuana growers that plague the state.

The measure is one of three now before Oregon lawmakers that aim to address the outlaw pot farms, many of which masquerade as licensed hemp operators, police have said.

The proposed measure would limit hemp licenses “based on supply of and demand for” the crop, and give the State Department of Agriculture the right to “refuse to issue industrial hemp grower license(s) for (the) amount of time department determines necessary.”

The proposal would also expand a state cannabis task force, and require the agriculture department to study and submit a report to the legislature on the effects of limiting grower licensing.

Gangs & cartels?

Police seized a record 52 tons of illegal marijuana in southern Oregon alone last year, the state’s Rogue Area Drug Enforcement agency recently announced.

State officials have said the illegal marijuana operators are often financed by foreign criminal gangs and drug cartels whose strategy is to expand operations faster than law agencies can shut them down.

The illegal marijuana growing is concentrated mainly in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties at Oregon’s southern border with California. That’s where police say growers are reported to be paying exorbitant prices for property, labor, and water rights, giving them advantages over legal marijuana growers and hampering hemp farmers.

Both hemp and recreational marijuana are legal but regulated in Oregon.

Fines & more cops

Separate bills submitted ahead of a Feb. 7 legislative deadline for draft laws would:

  • Set fines for marijuana operators who hide behind hemp licenses, and allow buildings and other premises to go under lien and be sold off to pay all fines and costs.
  • Establish an Oregon State Police unit to assist county sheriffs’ offices in shutting down the illegal pot farms. The state police would ensure that each county sheriff’s office receives at least $500,000 annually from the Oregon Department of Revenue for the enforcement, with more resources going to sheriffs who demonstrate a greater need.

Senate President Peter Courtney is reportedly in favor of passing legislation aimed at tackling the problem, and has suggested the Oregon National Guard could assist law enforcement.

The Oregon legislature last December passed the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program, providing $25 million in funding to help police crack down on the illegal growers.

Oregon’s current legislative session ends March 7.

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