Since recreational marijuana was legalized in Oregon in 2016, people have been able to legally purchase and grow cannabis. State laws say residents can grow up to four plants on their property. What officials are finding however, is people are cultivating more cannabis in Oregon than the legal limit allows. And it’s believed much of this is being supplied to the black market.
The Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement (MADGE) has seen a 52 percent increase in illegal marijuana seizures since 2015. By September 2017, MADGE had seized 360 pounds of illegal cannabis. In 2015, 237 pounds were seized.
Oregon Officials Experiencing an Overwhelming Number of Cannabis Cultivation Complaints
According to Medford police lieutenant Mike Budreau, “There are so many grow sites and so many complaints.” On average, MADGE is called to investigate 12-15 complaints each week regarding cannabis cultivation alone. Budreau says their focus is on “organized, illegal money-laundering operations.”
They aren’t however, able to look into every complaint they receive. Police have looked into over 300 complaints this year. The scope of cultivation they’re dealing with though, reaches far wider than what they can currently handle. And as MADGE Sergeant Ben Lytle puts it, distinguishing a legal grow from an illegal grow isn’t as easy as it seems. He says that “there’s no real way to distinguish between them.”
Concerns Expressed About Cultivation and the Black Market in Oregon
Officials in Oregon are concerned with legal marijuana grows and black-market activity. Southern Oregon still grows the most pot, much of which exported. A January 2017 report revealed Oregon has an “expansive geological footprint” on the black market across the country.
Analysts found that Portland, Medford, Eugene, and Grants Pass to be the cities with the “greatest level of concentration” to the black market. With the giant plants southern Oregon is famous for, it’s speculated that a lot of these crops are being sold illegally.
Black market sales have always been a concern with states who allow residents to grow their own weed, and Oregon is no exception. This year alone, MADGE has intercepted over 25 packages, 90 percent of which involved a legal local cannabis grower.
As Oregon joins the rest of the legal marijuana states, officials believe there is still a lot of work to be done. Overwhelming grow operations are an obvious concern. As Mike Pettinger of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission puts it, “I don’t think our agency has a great understanding of the breadth of this situation.”