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Illicit marijuana production in Oregon despite progressive cannabis laws

In Oregon, a state with incredibly progressive marijuana laws, local regulators have just discovered over 100 unregistered marijuana crops. On Thursday 23rd, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) released preliminary findings from a crackdown in Jackson and Josephine counties on illicit marijuana production masquerading as legal hemp.

According to Richard Evans, senior director of licensing and compliance with OLCC, who submitted statistics to the committee, 54% of the farms allowed to produce hemp that was inspected by state inspectors were discovered to be cultivating illegal marijuana.

OLCC and the Oregon Department of Agriculture evaluated plants at 212 licensed hemp farms in the two counties under the nickname “Operation Table Rock”. In total, 335 sites have been recorded in the region. Additional farms growing hemp or marijuana without a license aren't included in those figures.

Cracking down on illicit marijuana production

Illicit marijuana production in Oregon will be targeted by a new law called HB 3000 which was passed in July. It enables the agricultural department to work with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) and local law enforcement to gain access to and test crops on cannabis farms in Southern Oregon.

The enactment of this new law aimed at cracking down on unlicensed marijuana production among Oregon hemp operators means all the state's hemp farms will be scrutinised more closely.

Oregon’s progressive marijuana laws

In 2014, Oregon enacted Measure 91, legislation that allowed for the use and possession of recreational marijuana (alongside medical use marijuana) for persons over 21 years of age. Since then, dispensaries in the state have thrived bringing in millions in tax revenue.

According to Richard Evans, the OLCC's senior director of licensing and compliance, the discovery of so much illegal marijuana production undermines all the valid reasons Oregon’s progressive marijuana laws were enacted.

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“From what I’ve experienced down there, I believe there are more illicit grows than licensed grows.”

“This is hugely disappointing for the state of Oregon”, he continued.

“Measure 91 clearly states that we passed this law to prevent the dangerous uncontrolled and unlicensed manufacturing of illicit marijuana. To create tax revenue for the great state of Oregon and to ensure that the production and sale of marijuana in no way contributed to criminality in any way.”

Evans also went on to say that the passage of HB3000 aims to ensure that every single registered hemp producer in the state will be thoroughly examined and held to account. Although growers that are found to be breaking the law are unlikely to face criminal repercussions, they could face fines of up to $10,000. The new state law means license3d hemp growers will face penalties if they pass a THC threshold of 10%.

The inhabitants of Southern Oregon's number one desire is that there is a good quality of life here,” he added. “Not having armed guards in front of our houses. Or having issues like water rights, human trafficking, the [cannabis] stench,- the legal status of people working in the field — these things are our number one concern.”

This comes as a blow to cannabis campaigners looking for the relaxation of cannabis and marijuana laws in other states. However, OLLC’s director Evans also stated he believes there will always be “growing pains” when states liberalise their laws and the key is to remain vigilant and ensure “proper regulatory frameworks” are in place and adhered to.

In Summary

Only time will tell whether this recent news will affect progressive marijuana reform across the United States. However, one thing is certain, Oregon has collected a lot of tax revenue over the past few years and with the enactment of stronger checks and balances, is likely to collect more.

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You may also like to read: Medical Cannabis UK Guide

Josephine Gibney

Josephine Gibney is a freelance writer from Waterford. She has worked as a lifestyle reporter, a creative copywriter and a communications specialist over the last ten years. Her short fiction was longlisted for the 2020 Sean O’Faolain Prize and she is currently working on her first novel.

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