© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Law and Justice

Jackson County says it’s ‘completely overwhelmed’ by illegal cannabis grows, asks for state aid

hoop houses.jpg
Jackson County Sheriff's Office
Greenhouses at an illegal cannabis grow in Jackson County after a raid by law enforcement agencies in late August.

County officials say illegal cannabis operations are sprouting up all over Jackson County, outpacing local code and law enforcement efforts.

The Board of County Commissioners Wednesday declared a state of emergency and asked for help from the state.

Board chair Rick Dyer said, on a Zoom press conference, that law enforcement in the county has seen a 59 percent increase in calls related to illegal marijuana production, and ticked off a list of crimes that are being found.

“Including burglary, theft, assault, robbery and nuisance crimes. And there’s also significant evidence of ‘narco-slavery’ forced labor, human trafficking, immigration issues, squalid and unsafe living conditions, exploitation and abuse of workers, child welfare issues and animal abuse,” Dyer said.

living conditions.jpg
Jackson County Sheriff's Office
Living conditions found in a container used for worker housing during a recent raid on an illegal grow operations in Jackson County. Officials say they're seeing evidence of organized crime involvement in some illegal grows, including human trafficking, forced labor and worker abuse.

The county says that, six years after state voters legalized recreational use of marijuana, zoning and other code enforcement cases have increased by two-thirds, with 65 percent of them connected to illegal cannabis.

Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler says raids by his office, with other law enforcement agencies, have found evidence of human trafficking and worker exploitation tied to organized crime.

"We have identified a large cartel presence in both Josephine and Jackson Counties," he said during the Wednesday press conference. "We’ve had a lot of investigations going on, and we’ve hit locations in both counties that we suspect are cartel funded and operated."

Complaints about illegal water diversions and other water issues have risen sharply in the past six years, as well. According to the Jackson County emergency declaration, District 13 of the Oregon Water Resources Department has seen complaints about water use violations rise from 39 in 2015 to 195 so far in 2021.

The board wrote a letter to Governor Kate Brown and legislative leaders, pleading for help. The county says it needs 35 new staff members in the Sheriff’s Office alone, plus more code enforcement officers and state water-use investigators.

Officials couldn’t put an exact dollar figure on their request, but estimated it could cost at least several million dollars.