By editorial board • 

Scale of illegal local grows should put us all on notice

Late last month, a consortium of nearly a dozen agencies raided a pair of industrial-scale marijuana growing and processing operations on Yamhill County farmland just outside Dayton. 

They destroyed 6,700 plants from 46 greenhouses on Webfoot Road and 15,400 plants from 53 greenhouses on Willow Lane, along with more than five tons of processed marijuana.

The magnitude, location, sophistication and brazen nature of the operations surprised law enforcement officials and shocked most of the rest of us. But it would raise few eyebrows in neighboring California, which accounts for an estimated 60% to 70% of total U.S. production on an estimated 50,000 sites.

Last fall, authorities there seized more than 100,000 plants and 50 tons of processed marijuana in a set of raids in the Antelope Valley and Alameda County. And those sites lie far outside the Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties, the epicenter of California production, if not U.S. and even global production.

In other words, it’s bad here, very bad. And if we’re not careful, it could get worse here, exponentially worse.

The key factors in establishing the tipping point between legal and illegal production — in the 37 states allowing medicinal use and 18 states also allowing recreational use — are regulation and taxation. Both serve important public policy aims, but also serve to drive up the cost of doing business, thus have the potential to make going underground more attractive. 

In a recent article, Politico quoted an industry leader as saying, “Price is the biggest motivator for consumer choice. We know that from our own data. There’s no question that if you make things less expensive, people will buy them.” The danger lies in pushing the legal price high enough to incentivize illegal trade.

The American spectrum runs the gamut from the Wild West, open-market approach of Oklahoma, which has plunged in virtually restraint-free, to the highly taxed and regulated approach of California, where growers have to obtain water permits, limit energy use to renewables, avoid a long list of pesticides and jump through many other agency hoops.  

Both Oregon and California also face another issue — they were already home to highly organized and well-funded illegal operations when they embarked on legalization. Most other states started with a much cleaner slate, easing the transition for them.

One thing is certain: We don’t want to join California as a leading producer and consumer of untaxed, unregulated marijuana in defiance of both state and federal law. That carries with it a long list of negative impacts.

In recent raids in the two states, agencies have seized large quantities of high-powered firearms, toxic pesticides and stolen vehicles and farm equipment. They have encountered illegal clear-cutting and  stream diversion, indiscriminate pesticide, herbicide and solvent use, wanton dumping of human and industrial waste and other forms of environmental depredation.

Breaking one law begets breaking all the rest as well. Those crossing to the dark side no longer have reason to honor any of society’s established laws, regulations or traditions.

And woe to the poor person who stumbles onto an illegal growing and processing operation unaware. He risks paying with his life, no questions asked.

So, has Oregon hit the sweet spot when it comes to taxation and regulation, or should it be making adjustments designed to reduce the temptation to go underground? We aren’t sure about that, but we are sure it bears close watching by knowledgeable players and observers. 

In the meantime, it is incumbent on all of us to observe and report signs of excessive secrecy, traffic, scale, emission, odor, irrigation, power consumption and such, both on public and private lands. We can make it harder on illegal operators if we remain vigilant and communicative.

The magnitude of the recent local raids, and like raids staged elsewhere in Oregon, should serve as a wakeup call. We can’t afford to become complacent.



These massive, illegal marijuana grows are a direct consequence of the unanimous passage of House Bill 3200 during the 2019 session. Up until this bill finally became effective in 2021, the illicit pot growers were dispersing their operations in smaller grows on rental properties. The ridiculous plant limits adopted by the OMMP combined with lack of monitoring by the OMMP enabled massive overproduction for export to other states. These smaller scale grows exploited address specific grow site certificates that were issued by the OMMP and the OLCC to tenants or anyone else without the knowledge or consent of the property owner as legal camouflage to disguise their operations. The bureaucrats at the OMMP confirmed that they are utterly corrupt by issuing permits without land owner consent for applications submitted before midnight on December 31, 2021. These permits remained valid until 2022. This effectively enabled marijuana producers to impose the financial costs and liability for civil forfeiture on innocent third parties. Landlords who attempted to evict such criminals were at risk of being shot at or victimized by malevolent lawsuits.

Now that it has become difficult for the Oregon Marijuana Mafia Program to expropriate the property of innocent victims for the purposes of committing Federal felonies, the Oregon Marijuana Mafia now has to utilize their w own property for their illegal grows. The potential risk of civil forfeiture encourages them to consolidate their operations in massive grows.

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