Southern Oregon Overwhelmed by Illegal Pot Farms

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South-western Oregon, which encompasses Josephine, Jackson and Douglas counties, has experienced a rapid proliferation of unlicensed pot farms, unprecedented in terms of size and allegedly controlled by crime syndicates from eastern Europe, China and Mexico, reports The Guardian. Mapping of illegal pot farms has revealed 1,030 clusters of greenhouses on just 20 miles of the valley, 8o percent of which are estimated to be illegal. These large grows have flooded the market – a pound of cannabis that was worth $3,000 in 2009 here might now fetch $400, all but killing the industry for small-time legal growers.

Illegal farms are also depleting aquifers by pumping from protected rivers and digging huge pits to tap into the groundwater. Jackson and Douglas counties declared a state of emergency in October and asked Governor Kate Brown for state funding for more enforcement personnel because local authorities are overwhelmed. A big part of the problem is rooted in the legalization of industrial hemp as, since 2010, it’s been legal to grow hemp in unlimited quantities. After the hemp market crashed in 2018, some farmers began hiding psychoactive cannabis plants in their hemp fields and many more leased their properties to out-of-state operators who claimed they planned on growing hemp, allowing criminal organizations to grow on a vast scale. A migrant, mostly undocumented, workforce is required to farm on the scale southern Oregon is dealing with now, facing bosses who withhold pay and substandard living conditions.

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