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Lawmaker talks actions in Salem to combat illegal grows in Southern Oregon

Recreational Marijuana legal in California (KTVL/Sarina Sandoval){ }{p}{/p}
Recreational Marijuana legal in California (KTVL/Sarina Sandoval)

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When it comes to illegal grow operations, Southern Oregon law enforcement agencies have their hands full and have asked lawmakers to get involved. What that involvement will look like in practical terms has yet to be determined however Oregon Rep. Lily Morgan (R-Grants Pass) says she is doing what she can to procure her region with more resources at the state level.

"I'm working with OLCC and Oregon Department of Agriculture as well as other legislators to try to increase awareness and support financially for enforcement of the illegal grows in Southern Oregon," she said during an interview on Tuesday.

Though she is supporting bills relating to enforcement and regulation of the cannabis industry, she said she is not limiting solutions to what can be accomplished through those measures.

"The legislature approves the budget so through the process we can allocate money towards enforcement, towards the support of the agencies that do the enforcement and licensing, and towards the grants that go to Southern Oregon," she said. "By bringing the awareness, by bringing the support we are trying to allocate what resources that we can. if the Governor is able to divert any resources she currently has that is appropriate as well.

Residents in Josephine County have taken their complaints about the issue to lawmakers as well, sending a letter that denounced what they deem as a lack of enforcement that has caused illegal grows to proliferate in recent years. Complaints range from environmental to concerns over traffic and increased noise and light pollution.

Morgan said she understands these concerns and realizes how big of an issue this has become in her own backyard.

"It's the entirety of the situation from clearcutting our natural resources to bulldozing over creekbeds to stealing water, there is human trafficking going on, there is more serious violent crimes going on and quite frankly it is overwhelming our rural areas and it's not the culture of what Southern Oregon is," she said.

Local code and water rights agencies say they have seen complaints about these violations go up since the legalization of cannabis in Southern Oregon.

"I do not have an exact number, but I can say that we have seen an increase in code enforcement violations involving illegal marijuana," wrote Augustus Ogu, an assistant to the county's legal counsel in a statement. "Typically, the code enforcement violations that we see with illegal grows are unpermitted structures, electrical violations, multiple structures that are used as dwellings, and solid waste violations associated with illegal marijuana production."

Ogu said the department has also seen an increase in code violations involving living conditions.

"There are many cases of people illegally living in recreational vehicles and, in extreme cases, tents, automobiles, dilapidated shacks and sheds, and unsafe, inhumane, and hazardous makeshift dwellings," he said. "The solid waste issues stemming from these illegal marijuana sites and illegal dwellings include large amounts of junk, garbage, raw sewage and black water being ejected onto the ground or into nearby water sources."

Morgan noted that she has been working on a bill that would require more collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and local law enforcement agencies. She said it would address the issue of illegal Marijuana grows that register under hemp licenses but are actually producing Marijuana.

While Marijuana growing licenses are issued and regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Hemp licenses are regulated through the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

In a statement, the Department acknowledged that it has been overwhelmed but noted that it is working to increase resources and lend a hand to local law enforcement agencies.

"ODA is actively pursuing additional staff resources with the state Legislature to increase enforcement and compliance of the hemp laws and regulations. ODA has partnered with local law enforcement, Oregon state police, state legislators, and other agencies including the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to coordinate efforts to address the rapidly expanding hemp industry and establish that growers are registered and following state laws," the statement reads. "ODA is committed to providing local law enforcement the most up-to-date information including weekly lists of registered hemp growers and daily responses to specific inquiries about suspicious grow locations."

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