Oregon police just seized over half a million dollars worth of illegal weed in one of the largest black market pot busts in state history.
Last week, the Oregon State Police (OSP) Southwest Region Drug Enforcement Section raided 5 industrial-sized warehouses in White City, a small town near the California border. Over the course of the two-day raid, cops seized one firearm and 250 tons (500,000 pounds) of black market bud. In a press release, the OSP estimated that this “epic amount of illegal, processed marijuana” would have sold for at least $500 million on the street.
During the raid, cops detained, interviewed, identified, and released over 100 people who were working in the warehouses. The OSP reports that several of these individuals were “migrant workers living on-site in subpar living conditions without running water.” Police have yet to announce any arrests in the bust, but noted that “this is a very involved investigation and will be ongoing for several weeks.”
The criminals behind this massive grow-op reportedly built the warehouse complex last spring in a rural area of Jackson County on the outskirts of White City. This illicit farm has reportedly been stealing water from nearby rivers, creeks, and aquifers, putting an additional strain on Oregon's natural resources in the midst of heatwaves, wildfires, and extreme drought. Local police have also reported a major increase in crime since this operation set up shop.
“We’ve had stabbings, robberies, thefts, burglaries, homicides, sex crimes, motor vehicle accidents, DUIs, all related to the influx of the marijuana-cannabis industry in our valley,” Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler told the Associated Press. “It is certainly an issue we deal with on a daily basis here.”
Although Sickler calls out the cannabis industry in general, it's the black market weed trade that is responsible for the uptick in crime. According to a recent report by state cannabis regulators, nearly half of all licensed hemp farmers in the state are now growing illegal weed as a side gig. State police, cannabis regulators, and water resource inspectors have been unable to keep up with the rampant expansion of these illegal operations, and the federal government has threatened to intervene if Oregon fails to get its black market under control.
These illegal weed grows continue to flourish despite the fact that Oregon's legal pot industry is currently raking in over $1 billion a year. Although the industry is successful as a whole, overproduction has driven wholesale prices down, making it harder for smaller farms to compete with multistate weed industry giants. To maximize their profits, many of these smaller growers are partnering with drug cartels to smuggle their crops to prohibition states, where wholesale prices are much higher.
Since the pandemic began, Jackson County has become the hotbed of illegal weed cultivation in Oregon. In the first 9 months of 2021, the county filed 700 cases against farmers for violating the state's legal cannabis regulations. Last month, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners declared a state of emergency over these illegal grows, begging the state for additional funding to hire new cops and inspectors to help enforce these violations.