Raids in Oregon underscore enforcement challenges

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Law enforcement agencies in southern Oregon raided two self-described hemp growing operations last week, seizing more than 22,000 of what the police say are illegal marijuana plants.

The two operators, in Klamath County, were served warrants simultaneously in a police action coordinated by four agencies, which said the businesses did not even have hemp licenses.

“Both operations were purported to be ‘hemp,’ but none of the growing operations were licensed or permitted,” the Klamath Falls Police Department (KFPD) said in a statement. The police said testing showed the plants to be “high-THC marijuana.”

Both hemp and recreational cannabis are legal in Oregon. But sheriffs and other law agencies earlier this summer said they believe illicit marijuana is being grown at hemp plantations in the southern part of the state.

DEA warnings

Unfortunately for hemp growers, the raids in Oregon fulfill a prediction by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which repeated in its National Drug Threat Assessment report earlier this year that the federal legalization of hemp will mean ongoing headaches for law agencies.

DEA has repeatedly warned that policies surrounding hemp as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill are giving cover to criminal organizations that grow and traffic in illegal marijuana.

“The 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp production at the federal level has further challenged law enforcement, particularly in states that legalized marijuana,” DEA said. While the businesses raided in Oregon were unlicensed in either hemp or marijuana, the DEA said in some states where marijuana is legal, agencies have uncovered legal hemp businesses run by marijuana operators dealing in the black market.

“According to law enforcement officials, traffickers use their state-issued hemp documentation as cover for large-scale marijuana grows and marijuana loads transported across state lines,” DEA said.

The DEA has been a constant and uninvited guest to hemp rulemaking since the 2014 Farm Bill established a hemp pilot program, aggressively and persistently asserting itself into the industry to push for greater restrictions. That push-back has continued even in the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill’s express removal of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

Challenge for states

Oregon in July passed a set of legislative amendments to reduce the burden on resources needed to police illegal cannabis operations. Those changes also “allow law enforcement greater flexibility in destroying illegal grows,” according to the statement from Klamath Falls police.

Other states have worried they will not have the resources to police hemp operations. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller drew blowback from that state’s hemp stakeholders recently when he said it is “highly probable” some licensed hemp growers are also growing marijuana, warning that his department does not have the manpower it needs to conduct inspections across the state.

Kansas State officials moved regulatory authority for hemp to the fire marshal because the state agriculture department does not have the resources or experience needed to enforce hemp laws.

Some cops still ignorant

In some states, police agencies are still unaware of the federal legalization of industrial hemp. That ignorance was typified by a raid in Virginia earlier this year when the owners of a legal hemp business found police aiming guns at them after answering a knock at the door. Their plants had previously been tested by the state and found to be in compliance with allowable THC levels for hemp.

The Klamath Falls Police Department, which was joined in the Oregon raids by the Basin Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team, the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office, and the Oregon State Police, also noted the landowners are under investigation for the illegal use of groundwater.

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