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Oregon Lawmaker Calls for Support Against Illicit Cannabis Grows

Ed Knight

By Ed Knight

March 23, 2022

An Oregon congressman is urging the Department of Justice to assist his home state’s ongoing efforts to combat illicit cannabis operations.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, a Republican, called out Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday for what he said has been a lackluster response from the federal government. 

For months, law enforcement officials in southern Oregon have been overwhelmed with illicit cannabis grow operations, some of which have been linked to cartels.

In a tweet, Bentz said he sent Garland a letter fourth months ago “concerning the Mexican, Russian, and Chinese cartels operating cannabis ‘grows’ in southern Oregon.”

“Last week, after months of silence, I once again urged the AG to act swiftly to protect southern Oregonians,” Bentz said in the tweet on Monday. The southern Oregon counties of Jackson and Josephine have seen the lion’s share of the illicit cannabis crisis in the state.

In October, the Board of Commissioners in Jackson County declared a state of emergency over the situation, and asked for more resources and the deployment of the National Guard to assist local law enforcement. 

One of the commissioners, Rick Dyer, said at the time that there was “significant evidence of narco-slavery, forced labor, human trafficking, immigration issues, squalid and unsafe living conditions and exploitation and abuse of workers, child welfare issues and animal abuse.”

In November, Oregon State Police said that it had seized about 500,000 pounds of illicit cannabis in a massive bust in Jackson County. 

“Over 100 individuals were initially detained, identified, interviewed, and released. Several of the individuals were migrant workers living on-site in subpar living conditions without running water. During the operation, which spanned over two days, an epic amount of illegal, processed marijuana and a firearm were seized,” the State Police announced on Facebook at the time.

The post continued, “The [Drug Enforcement Section] Team’s conservative estimation on the amount of processed marijuana seized was approximately 500,000 lbs., which depending on where it would be exported to, has a conservative street value of somewhere around $500 million. This is a very involved investigation and will be ongoing for several weeks. OSP will be releasing more information when available.”

Lawmakers Have Been Combatting the Problem on a Statewide Level

Lawmakers in Oregon, which legalized recreational pot use for adults in 2016, have taken steps to rein in the problem, as well, earmarking $25 million to combat the operations in January. 

Last month, lawmakers brought forward proposals to bring a greater level of scrutiny to cannabis licenses and water deliveries at such operations.

In the letter that he first sent Garland in November, and that he re-upped on Twitter this week, Bentz said that Oregon was grappling with an illicit cannabis problem that necessitated a federal solution.

“To put it bluntly, Oregon needs the Federal Government’s help,” Bentz said in the letter. “Specifically, we need teams of up to 20 people for each affected county, to assist local law enforcement in identifying illegal grows, eradicating those grows, and then prosecuting the criminals conducting the illegal grows.” 

Bentz made a similar call to Garland during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing in October.

“I’ve spoken with the FBI, but the Justice Department needs to be doing more about this issue at all levels.” Bentz said at the hearing. “Oregon, and possibly other states are caught up in the illegal growing and production of marijuana and cannabis on an industrial scale. According to local law enforcement, this industry is based in large part on the miserable suffering of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people coming across the border illegally, and then being pressed into indentured servitude by cartels.”

“I had the opportunity to directly ask the Attorney General why he told the FBI to focus on parents appearing before school boards voicing their displeasure about critical race theory, instead of protecting Oregon communities from the obvious and real dangers posed by illegal and dangerous drug cartels. I hope he listened and that he will do more to help,” he added.

Ed Knight

About The Author

Ed Knight

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