The governor of Oregon is facing calls to send in the National Guard amid a significant increase in the number of illicit marijuana farms, with one southern county already having declared a state of emergency.

That move by commissioners in Jackson County followed a police raid on a grow site with two tons of processed cannabis and a further 17,500 plants in pots. The scale of the illicit operation led Jackson County officials to request extra funding from legislative leaders to help tackle the issue, and to ask Gov. Kate Brown to deploy the Oregon National Guard.

The raid in Medford, Jackson County, resulted in the arrest of 26 migrant workers who were all released after questioning. Jackson County Sheriff’s office has issued an arrest warrant for the individual believed to be behind the operation.

Senate President Peter Courtney said the problem is getting so out of hand that he believes it’s time to send in the Oregon National Guard, given many of those at illicit grow sites are heavily armed.

“You can’t solve it just at the local level, and you cannot solve it, I’m afraid, just at the usual state level and have some more state troopers down there,” Courtney said. “The National Guard, they’re going to have to get deployed down there some way or other.”

A spokesperson from Brown’s office said the governor is considering the move but is minded to hold off for now as the growing season is coming to an end. She would, however, reevaluate the situation next year.

Josephine County officials wrote to Courtney about its illicit cannabis grow sites in August to detail the squalid and exploitative conditions faced by migrant workers. The problem, if anything, has only intensified since then.

Neighboring California faces its own issues with illicit cannabis grow sites. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom sent the National Guard to patrol public wildlands in search of illegal marijuana farms. Last year, seven migrant workers were shot dead at an illegal cannabis grow operation in a rural Southern Californian town.

And it seems the problem of illicit grow sites in California and Oregon, across a region known as the Emerald Triangle due to its ideal conditions for growing cannabis outdoors, is set to continue with price drops in the legal industry indicating a market that’s over-saturated with marijuana products. Meanwhile, local councils in California are still able to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdiction, which encourages more black market activity.

The size of the illicit marijuana industry throughout the region means those behind the grow sites aren’t too concerned about a few busts, according to Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel. Nor does he think the National Guard is equipped to deal with the problem.

“If you want some National Guard troops to help you cut down plants, great, but you’ve got to realize there’s a lot of investigation that goes into these operations, to get the search warrants,” Daniel said. “You’re going to have National Guard people sitting on their hands for a number of days at a time.”

Instead, as a multibillion dollar illicit industry, Daniel believes it will take the resources of the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration to bring the individuals behind these networks of industrial-scale marijuana farms to heel.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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