Abuses, illegal activity and some progress detailed in Southern Oregon cannabis forum

By Erik Neumann (Jefferson Public Radio)
Oct. 27, 2021 11:15 p.m.

A community forum on Tuesday night focusing on illegal cannabis cultivation in Southern Oregon detailed a litany of abuses as local and state agencies try to reign in illegal operations.

State and county officials at the community forum cited wage and water theft, and physical and sexual intimidation as just a few of the problems at illegal cannabis operations this summer.

Alicia Brown is supervisor of the Jackson County department that investigates complaints about safety and code violations. She said her enforcement officers have up to 300 cases, and they’re overwhelmed.


“Cases are prioritized by fire, life, safety issues, egregious violations, violations that are blatant criminal activity,” Brown said.

Greenhouses at an illegal cannabis grow in Jackson County after a raid by law enforcement agencies in late August.

Greenhouses at an illegal cannabis grow in Jackson County after a raid by law enforcement agencies in late August.

JPR / Jackson County Sheriff's office


Kathy Keesee works with the farmworker advocacy group Unete. She said migrant laborers who lost farm jobs because of the drought turned to illegal cannabis grows. Many experienced threats of violence and wage theft.

“That if you come bother us for your money, we’re going to go harm your families in Mexico or Guatemala or wherever the families are living,” Keesee said. “We’re also seeing field bosses threatening people, like holding guns to their heads, sexual harassment with women, threatening rape and things like that.”

Southern Oregon Representative Pam Marsh organized Tuesday’s forum. Representatives from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon Water Resources Department and Jackson County sheriff all said more staff and resources are needed to combat a problem that has grown out of control this summer. The Jackson County commissioners recently declared a state of emergency and asked the Governor to provide resources to help.

The Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler, and officials from the agriculture department and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission said a new state law, HB 3000, has enabled an ongoing series of raids on large illegal cannabis operations.

Obie Strickler is a cannabis grower and the chair of the Jackson County Marijuana Advisory Committee. During the forum he said a proactive regulatory approach is needed to curb illegal activity.

“We need to be acting in a proactive way rather than a reactive way to let these illegal operators know that this is not acceptable in our community,” Strickler said. “And unfortunately, without a very aggressive approach like this, it’s going to continue.”