Officials in Jackson County in southwest Oregon plan to ask the state for more than $7.2 million to help crack down on the billions of dollars worth of illegal cannabis grows across the Rogue Valley.
The money would pay for 37 new employees, including Sheriff's Office detectives, code enforcement officers and more staff for the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, The Mail Tribune reported.
Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said the request is what the county needs over a year to make growing illegal marijuana uncomfortable and risky for people.
Regulated recreational cannabis was legalized in Oregon in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped illegal, untaxed grows from proliferating.
Southern Oregon is at the tip of the so-called Emerald Triangle, a pot growing region that includes Northern California.
Oregon’s Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Douglas County sheriff’s offices regularly find grows and processing and storage sites with millions of dollars worth of illegal marijuana. A potato shed with marijuana worth more than $100 million was found this year in Klamath County and a grow with an estimated $200 million worth of marijuana plants was discovered in Josephine County.
But without enough money from the state and blocked from enacting local taxes on grows to fund marijuana enforcement, Jackson County officials say law enforcement in the region has fallen behind on busting illegal cannabis operations.
State agencies that regulate the hemp and marijuana industries and agricultural water use are also struggling to keep up with the volume of illegal operators, county officials said.
Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office can currently tackle about 40 illegal grows per year. Jackson County officials estimate there are 2,000 legal and illegal hemp and marijuana sites locally.
Law enforcement agencies in southern Oregon say foreign cartels are behind many of the illegal grows. They say cartels know some grows will be discovered and destroyed, but the rest will generate vast sums of money once the pot is trafficked to states where marijuana is illegal.
Jackson County's request for funding will go to the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office Emergency Board, which allocates emergency funds when the Oregon Legislature isn’t in session.
Jordan noted the nearly $7.3 million request doesn’t include money to address environmental damage from dismantled greenhouses, human feces, pesticides and dangerous electrical wiring left behind by illegal growers.
The state Emergency Board has a larger pile of money this year, in part because Oregon’s budget was buttressed by federal pandemic aid.
“From a budget standpoint, this should be a no-brainer,” Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer said.