2 Oregon counties issue cannabis-related states of emergency, paving way to halt hemp licenses

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel stands amid the debris of plastic hoop houses destroyed by law enforcement, used to grow cannabis illegally, near Selma, Ore., on June 16, 2021. Jackson and Josephine County commissioners have declared states of emergency, a precursor to an expected moratorium on new hemp licenses to address illegal cannabis production. (Shaun Hall/Grants Pass Daily Courier via AP, File)

Two counties in southern Oregon have declared states of emergency related to cannabis, paving the way for a moratorium on new hemp licenses.

Jackson County commissioners declared a local state of emergency Thursday while Josephine County commissioners declared one Wednesday, The Mail Tribune reported. A new Oregon law requires the state to deny applications for new hemp licenses in counties that declare a cannabis emergency.

The moratorium on new hemp licenses is retroactive to Jan. 1, meaning pending applications since then will be denied. It extends to Dec. 31, or the end of the growing season for industrial hemp as determined by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, whichever comes later, said Jackson County Senior Deputy Administrator Harvey Bragg.

An explosion of hemp and marijuana grows in southern Oregon has overwhelmed regulatory agencies and law enforcement. Last year, state agriculture inspectors found 53 per cent of licensed hemp grows they tested in Jackson and Josephine counties were growing marijuana under the guise of hemp. Hemp and marijuana look alike, but testing THC levels allows inspectors to tell them apart.

READ MORE: Oregon lawmakers take aim at explosion of illegal pot farms

Law enforcement agencies found a slew of problems at illegal marijuana grows they busted in 2021, including workers living in squalid conditions, water theft in a region hard-hit by drought, improper use of pesticides and other chemicals, garbage, electrical wiring hazards and evidence of illegal drug trafficking.

Agencies believe organized criminal networks, including foreign drug cartels, are financially backing many of the illegal grows.

READ MORE: Migrant Oregon weed workers face threats amid illegal boom



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