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Overwhelmed by illegal marijuana grows, two Southern Oregon counties are calling a halt on hemp

A new Oregon law requires the state to deny applications for new hemp licenses in counties that declare a cannabis emergency.
Credit: AP
FILE - A marijuana bud is seen before harvest near Corvallis, Ore. on Sept. 30, 2016. Seven years after Oregon voters passed a ballot measure legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and its regulated cultivation and sale, the state is grappling with an explosion of illegal marijuana farms, and after hearing testimony during the week of Dec. 13, 2021, the Oregon Legislature dedicated $25 million to combatting them. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

MEDFORD, Ore. — MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — 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.

RELATED: Washington lawmakers urge halt to hemp-derived THC in state

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% 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.

RELATED: With record-breaking harvest, Oregon is swimming in weed again

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.

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