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State funding has helped Josephine County combat illegal cannabis, says sheriff

Marijuana plants stand in rows, far into the background. There's a fence in the distance on the right, and tall trees on the left. Netting and metal poles stand amidst the plants.
Josephine County Sheriff's Office
An illegal marijuana grow raided by the Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team in Cave Junction on August 3, 2023. Over 1,200 plants were seized.

In recent years, state lawmakers in Oregon have given over $25 million dollars in funding to combat illegal cannabis production in the state.

A lot of that money is focused on Southern Oregon, where much of the state's cannabis is grown, both legally and illegally. To learn about the impacts of this funding on local law enforcement’s efforts, JPR’s Roman Battaglia talks to the Josephine County Sheriff, Dave Daniel.

Roman Battaglia: You've been Sheriff here since 2015. And illegal cannabis has been here since long before then. I'm just wondering what you've seen during your career here in terms of illegal marijuana? Is there any specific year it was really bad? How bad have we seen illegal marijuana?

Dave Daniel: Well, I think this whole industry has really transformed over decades of time. Josephine County is very well known, if not worldwide, for marijuana production. And that goes back decades long ago, it used to be out in the national forests, and very clandestine in nature. But with the passage of measures to legalize marijuana, that's really when we saw it blossom. We were absolutely overwhelmed early on, in this deal. And that's when the bad actors really took advantage of the situation. But things have changed over time. And we're having a great deal of success over the last basically three to two and a half years, in having an impact. Now that we're having an impact and have the funds to support our JMET team, which is our Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team, they've [the illegal cannabis growers] really spread out. So as opposed to putting all their eggs in one basket on one or two properties. They're putting, you know, 5000 plants or 4000 plants on a smaller piece of property.

Battaglia: You mentioned this funding that your organization had received. That's part of the reason I'm talking to you is because in the recent couple of years, we've seen more money coming to enforcement groups for illegal marijuana. Could you tell me a little bit about some of the funding that your groups have gotten in Josephine County to combat these illegal grows?

Daniel: Yeah, it goes through a grant through the Criminal Justice Commission, Governor Brown was really instrumental in opening that door. And I think a lot of it was due to the humanitarian issues that came to her desk, some of the human trafficking that was going on and that we've become aware of. And so I think that was really probably the catalyst for us getting those those monies in the Criminal Justice Commission,

Battaglia: What then, because of this funding that you guys have received, I'm just wondering what you've seen in terms of the impact. How much has that helped? What have you guys used this funding for? To enforce this?

Daniel: Yeah, primarily, it's for our Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team. It's a team of detectives. That's their sole purpose. That's what they do year round, is they find the outdoor grows in the summertime, they try to find the indoor grows in the offseason, and it's having an impact. There's absolutely no doubt about it. I know the illicit growers are on edge. I have word of that. They know we're out there. I mean, we've done I think the last two weeks, we've done eight operations or nine operations, and that's completely destroying nine illegal grows, and that has to have an impact, because we're talking about literally millions of dollars. I argue to say that the legal marijuana industry is probably the biggest agricultural crop money wise, across the state.

Battaglia: I'm just wondering, from your perspective, what are you expecting in terms of the needs for illegal marijuana enforcement through the rest of the year, and in the next year? What are you sort of expecting looking forward?

Daniel: I don't think it's ever gonna go away, Roman. I think it's always going to be here. It's always been here in Josephine County. I'm very hopeful that the monies that we've received in the form of grants through the Criminal Justice Commission continues. I know Jackson County and Josephine County, we received the lion's share of those monies. And because we are without a doubt the biggest producers of illegal marijuana in Oregon, and so I'm just hopeful that those allocations can still come to Southern Oregon, because it's not going to go away. I mean, there were there's opportunity and big money, there's always going to be bad actors. And so that's my hope.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.