Oregon Police Seizes Epic Amount of Illegal Pot

Stephen Andrews
22 Nov 2021

Oregon's state police last week seized 500,000 lbs. of illegal weed in operation outside the city of Medford, Jackson County. The catch is valued at $500 million, police said. This is the most recent in a series of police actions that probe illegal pot farming in Oregon, one of the states with the most liberal laws on drugs use.

The Oregon State Police Southwest Region (OSP) Drug Enforcement Section team served a search warrant Thursday (Nov 18) at five industrial-sized warehouses in White City, Oregon, police said. Police officers seized the large cache of marijuana and a firearm over two days. 

"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 ... This is a very involved investigation and will be ongoing for several weeks," OSP said in a news release.  

The epic amount of illegal, processed marijuana was seized at a time when legalized marijuana is thriving. However, in Jackson County, a state of emergency was declared in October due to an overwhelming increase in the number and size of illegal marijuana plantations. The county appealed to the governor and the Legislature's leaders for help to tackle the illicit operations. 

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners said law enforcement officers and other regulators involved were overwhelmed and warned of an "imminent threat to the public health and safety of our citizen from the illegal production of cannabis in our county."

The illegal pot plantations are often disguised as legal hemp farms, the commissioners noted. According to some estimates from Josephine County Sherrif Dave Daniel, there may be as many as hundreds of operations within the county's territories alone. More farms likely exist in neighboring counties such as Josephine county. 

A recent report from the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission claims that almost 50% of registered hemp farms inspected in the state were found to breach laws by cultivating marijuana plants, often with THC levels above what the rules permit. 

Throughout most of the U.S. West, illegal farming has remained a tenacious issue, although legal markets have been established region-wide. Most illegal growers want to make larger profits by avoiding settling taxes enforced for the legal production of marijuana. Illegal farms are siphoning large sums of profits from the legal market, most notably in California, where unregulated sales of pot products outperform $8bn against $5bn in legal transactions on an annual basis. 

Illegal operations are also depriving users, legal farmers, and homeowners of water, which is becoming a scarce commodity across the West where persistent drought periods already strain the water system. In addition, illegal infrastructure is threatening ecosystems and jeopardizing wildlife, and even protected park areas are no longer safe.

Manufacturing and retail of adult-use marijuana products have been made legal in Oregon as of 2015. Cannabis operators must be registered by the state of Oregon, which enforces compliance with rules. Oregon's growers and processors who operate out of the legal spectrum in Jackson and Josephine counties are often joined by outsiders in their quest to make unlawful profits. 

Under Oregon state law, adults 21 and over can buy and use cannabis sold in licensed cannabis shops. Producing marijuana without a license remains prohibited by statute, as is public use and driving under the influence.

Earlier this year, Oregon also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in a bid to establish some of the most liberal drugs laws nationwide. 

Stephen Andrews