Two developments in the past few days are good news for southern Oregon, which is battling illegal cannabis cultivation out of control and faces the prospect of another hot, dry summer and wildfires likely to erupt. ‘accompany. There’s still a lot to do on both fronts, but we’ll take the positive news in the meantime.
The first is the Oregon Senate’s Thursday passage of a bill allowing a temporary moratorium on new hemp grow licenses while law enforcement continues to detect unlicensed marijuana grown under the covered in hemp operations. Hemp is the non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana and is regulated by the state Department of Agriculture. In 2021, state regulators found that more than half of hemp grow sites in Jackson and Josephine counties were growing marijuana with THC levels above the limit for hemp crops.
Senate Bill 1564 allows counties that have declared states of emergency due to cannabis to ask the state to suspend new hemp licenses for two years. The measure passed almost unanimously and was sent to the House.
This is an important step in bringing the illegal activity plaguing this part of the state under control. But that’s only one step, and only part of the solution.
In addition to the cultivation of marijuana disguised as hemp farms, real illegal marijuana plantations operated by criminal cartels steal water, abuse workers in conditions that amount to human trafficking and endanger their rural neighbors with gun caches and environmentally destructive agricultural practices. The Mail Tribune documented law enforcement raids that seized marijuana with a black market value of $2.78 billion in four southern Oregon counties, more than double the total legal sales statewide in 2021.
Two bills are progressing through the legislative process that would help remedy this situation. Senate Bill 1587 would increase the amount of marijuana tax revenue going to law enforcement from $6 million in the current biennium to $32 million. This would reduce the amount of money allocated to drug recovery services under Measure 110 passed by voters.
This will not sit well with supporters of Measure 110, which aims to get hard drug users into treatment instead of incarceration. But there are good reasons to believe that the illegal marijuana trade is an immediate crisis that demands a quick response.
Ideally, lawmakers should find a way to fund both efforts. That shouldn’t be impossible, given recent revenue forecasts that predict $800 million in additional revenue for the state.
Another bill in the works is House Bill 4074, which provides additional funding to community organizations working to address the humanitarian costs of the illegal marijuana trade.
The second dose of good news last week was the announcement of $20 million in grants for nine major projects aimed at reducing wildfire risk on forest lands, including several here in southern Oregon. , where forestry projects are already underway and crews are hard at work treating nearby acreage. communities most at risk of catastrophic damage in the event of a wildfire.
The money comes from Senate Bill 762, passed in the 2021 legislative session. Grants were given priority to projects and partnerships most likely to produce quick results and use the money immediately.
Again, this injection of cash is welcome and sorely needed, but it is only a step along the way. Additional investments will be needed to address the long-term fire risk for communities in southern Oregon.