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Josephine and Jackson counties issue emergency declarations to curb illegal cannabis farms

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

Two Southern Oregon counties issued emergency declarations related to cannabis this week. The announcements are meant to stop new licenses from being issued to hemp growers.

Josephine County plans to stop issuing new licenses to hemp growers because of ongoing problems with illegal cannabis in Southern Oregon, according to Wednesday's declaration. Jackson County commissioners voted to do the same on Thursday, according to the Mail Tribune.

“Josephine and Jackson for some reason seems to be a hotbed of illegal activity in the cannabis industry,” says Josephine County Commissioner Dan DeYoung.

He says many illegal operations use hemp licenses to covertly grow marijuana. “We have a lot of legal cannabis growers. They have no reason to be antsy about this because they are doing everything legally. It’s the illegal folks that we're after.”

Illegal cannabis grows are affecting real estate, property values and the general quality of life in Southern Oregon, DeYoung says. The explosion of cannabis in recent years has been tied to water theft, human trafficking, and concerns over the industry's connections to organized crime.

This week's emergency declarations were prompted by a new bill passed by the Oregon legislature to curb hemp licenses. SB1564 was sponsored by Democrats Rep. Pam Marsh and Sen. Jeff Golden of Jackson County. It was passed during the legislature's short session and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Brown.

Cutting off new licenses for hemp growers is just one tool Josephine County is using to try to crack down on the illegal market.

“There's a number of different things that we are doing in Josephine County because it doesn't seem to be getting any better. It seems to be getting worse," DeYoung says. "This proposal and declaration came out of our cannabis advisory panel, which has quite a few legal growers, both recreational [and] medical.”

Growers who received a license in 2020 or 2021 will still be eligible this year, but if the bill is signed into law, no new licenses will be issued by the state Department of Agriculture for the duration of the growing season.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.