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Oregon county seeks millions to counter illegal marijuana grows

Officials in Jackson County are asking the state for more than $7.2 million to crack down on the grows in Rogue Valley.

MEDFORD, Ore. — Jackson County, Oregon, officials are asking the state to provide more than $7.2 million to combat the growing number of illegal marijuana operations in the region. 

The Mail Tribune reported the funds will pay for 37 new employees, including detectives, code enforcement officers and more staff at the county district attorney's office. The request will be sent to the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office Emergency Board, which allocates emergency funds when the Oregon Legislature isn't in session. 

According to the Mail Tribune, Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said the request is what the county needs for just one year to make growing marijuana illegally a bigger risk for offenders. Other officials said several southern Oregon counties fell behind on enforcement because of a lack of funding from the state, and they're blocked from enacting local sales taxes on grows to fund marijuana enforcement. 

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the Jackson County Sheriff's Office can only currently tackle about 40 illegal grows per year. Jackson County officials estimate there are 2,000 legal and illegal hemp and marijuana sites locally. 

Jackson County declared a state of emergency over the number of illegal marijuana grows in the region, and asked Governor Kate Brown to deploy the National Guard to combat the issue. 

RELATED: Jackson County asks for National Guard support to shut down illegal marijuana farms

Douglas, Jackson, Josephine and Klamath County sheriff's regularly find grows, processing, and storage sites with millions of dollars worth of product. Recently, a potato shed with more than $100 million worth of marijuana was found in Klamath County, and a grow in Josephine County had an estimated $200 million of the plant.

Law enforcement agencies believe many of the illegal grows are operated by foreign cartels, and the product will be trafficked to states where marijuana is still illegal. It could be worth millions to the crime organizations. 

Sergeant Cliff Barden of the Oregon State Police Basin Interagency Narcotics Enforcement team (BINET), said the cartel's strategy is to overwhelm local agencies and resources with the volume of product, ensuring that much of the operation will go unnoticed.

RELATED: Clear links between illegal marijuana grows in Southern Oregon and Mexican cartels

Jordan said the request doesn't include money to address environmental damage from dismantled greenhouses, human feces, pesticides, and dangerous electrical wiring left behind by illegal growers. 

The request comes at a time when Oregon's Emergency Board has a larger pile of money this year, in part because the budget was bolstered by federal pandemic aid. 

Regulated recreational marijuana was legalized in the state back in 2015, but that hasn't stopped illegal, untaxed grows from proliferating. 

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