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Illegal marijuana farms take West’s water in ‘blatant theft’

LA PINE, Ore. (AP) — Jack Dwyer pursued a dream of getting back to the land by moving in 1972 to an idyllic, tree-studded parcel in Oregon with a creek running through it.

“We were going to grow our own food. We were going to live righteously. We were going to grow organic,” Dwyer said. Over the decades that followed, he and his family did just that.

But now, Deer Creek has run dry after several illegal marijuana grows cropped up in the neighborhood last spring, stealing water from both the stream and nearby aquifers and throwing Dwyer’s future in doubt.

From dusty towns to forests in the U.S. West, illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts when there often isn’t enough to go around for even licensed users. Conflicts about water have long existed, but illegal marijuana farms — which proliferate despite legalization in many Western states — are adding strain during a severe drought .

In California, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, there are still more illegal cannabis farms than licensed ones, according to the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Because peak water demand for cannabis occurs in the dry season, when streamflow is at its lowest levels, even small diversions can dry streams and harm aquatic plants and animals,” a study from the center said.

Some jurisdictions are fighting back. California’s Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in May banned trucks carrying 100 gallons or more of water from using roads leading to arid tracts where some 2,000 illegal marijuana grows were purportedly using millions of gallons of water daily.

The illegal grows are “depleting precious groundwater and surface water resources” and jeopardizing agricultural, recreational and residential water use, the county ordinance says.

In Oregon, the number of illegal grows appears to have increased recently as the Pacific Northwest endured its driest spring since 1924 .

Many are operating under the guise of being hemp farms, legalized nationally under the 2018 Farm Bill, said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Under the law, hemp’s maximum THC content — the compound that gives cannabis its high — must be no greater than 0.3%. Fibers of the hemp plant are used in making rope, clothing, paper and other products.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel believes there are hundreds of illegal grows in his southern Oregon county alone, many financed by overseas money. He believes the financiers expect to lose a few grows but the sheer number of them means many will last until the marijuana is harvested and sold on the black market outside Oregon.

None of the new sites has been licensed to grow recreational marijuana, Pettinger said. Regulators, confronted in 2019 by a backlog of license applications and a glut of regulated marijuana, stopped processing new applications until January 2022.

The illegal grows have had “catastrophic” consequences for natural water resources, Daniel said. Several creeks have dried up far earlier than normal and the water table — the underground boundary between water-saturated soil and unsaturated soil — is dropping.

“It’s just blatant theft of water,” Daniel said.

Last month, Daniel and his deputies, reinforced by other law enforcement officers, destroyed 72,000 marijuana plants growing in 400 cheaply built greenhouses, known as hoop houses.

The water for those plants came through a makeshift, illicit system of pumps and hoses from the nearby Illinois River, which belongs to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, created by Congress to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values.

Daniel said another illegal grow that had 200,000 plants was drawing water from Deer Creek using pumps and pipes. He called it “one of the most blatant and ugly things I’ve seen.”

“They had actually dug holes into the ground so deep that Deer Creek had dried up . and they were down into the water table,” the sheriff said.

Dwyer has a water right to Deer Creek, near the community of Selma, that allows him to grow crops. The creek can run dry late in the year sometimes, but Dwyer has never seen it this dry, much less this early in the year.

The streambed is now an avenue of rocks bordered by brush and trees.

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Over the decades, Dwyer created an infrastructure of buried water pipe, a dozen spigots and an irrigation system connected to the creek to grow vegetables and to protect his home against wildfires. He uses an old well for household water, but it’s unclear how long that will last.

“I just don’t know what I will do if I don’t have water,” the 75-year-old retired middle school teacher said.

Marijuana has been grown for decades in southern Oregon, but the recent explosion of huge illegal grows has shocked residents.

The Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, where Dwyer lives, held two town halls about the issue recently. Water theft was the main concern, said Christopher Hall, the conservation district’s community organizer.

“The people of the Illinois Valley are experiencing an existential threat for the first time in local history,” Hall said.

In the high desert of central Oregon, illegal marijuana growers are also tapping the water supply that’s already so stressed that many farmers, including those who produce 60% of the world’s carrot-seed supply , face a water shortage this year.

On Sept. 2, Deschutes County authorities raided a 30-acre (12-hectare) property in Alfalfa, just east of Bend. It had 49 greenhouses containing almost 10,000 marijuana plants and featured a complex watering system with several 15,000- to 20,000-gallon cisterns. Neighbors told detectives the illegal grow has forced them to drill a new well, Sheriff Shane Nelson said.

The Bend area has experienced a population boom, putting more demands on the water supply. The illegal grows are making things worse.

In La Pine, south of Bend, Rodger Jincks watched a crew drill a new well on his property. The first sign that his existing well was failing came when the pressure dropped as he watered his tiny front lawn. Driller Shane Harris estimated the water table is dropping 6 inches (15 centimeters) per year.

Sheriff’s deputies last November raided an illegal grow a block away that had 500 marijuana plants.

Jincks’ neighbor, Jim Hooper, worries that his well might fail next. He resents the illegal grows and their uncontrolled used of water.

“With the illegals, there’s no tracking of it,” Hooper said. “They’re just stealing the water from the rest of us, which is causing us to spend thousands of dollars to drill new wells deeper.”

Oregon Cannabis Commission to Implement New Rules Through 2022

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission has spent the last 18 months crafting new rules to improve the state’s cannabis industry.

The OLCC announced in a December 28 press release that it would be implementing new cannabis rules that will take effect between 2022 and 2023. Steve Marks, OLCC executive director, addressed the need for these changes, expressing the desired outcome after the changes go live.

“These rules try to balance a number of different concerns—consumer health and safety, interests of small and large operators in our industry and public safety concerns around loopholes in the Federal Farm Bill of 2018, and the illicit farm production taking place in Oregon,” Marks said.

The source of these changes began with the approval of House Bill 3000 and Senate Bill 408. HB-3000 creates a foundation for limitations on “THC-laden hemp products from being sold unregulated in Oregon,” while SB-408 restructured penalties for licensees who violated the rules.

The press release also states that the violation categories that have been in place since 2016 are outdated, and the new rules plan to build off of the current industry landscape. Some of the new rules went into effect on January 1, 2022; however, other rules won’t immediately go live and will instead roll out from now through the beginning of 2023.

The OLCC notes that the “fading threat of Federal government action” due to the number of states that have legalized cannabis has also led to another rule change that restructures and reduces penalties for licensees who violate certain rules. OLCC Commissioner Matt Maletis admits that although it isn’t a perfect solution, it will still help the industry as a whole. “It may not make everybody happy, but it’s a pathway, and I think it solves a lot of the issues,” Maletis stated.

Rules will also be changing for consumers. After the new year begins, consumers will be able to purchase two ounces of usable cannabis (up from one). The amount of milligrams for edibles in particular will be increased from 50mg THC per package to 100mg THC, which will be eligible for sale after April 1, 2022. Additionally, “artificially derived cannabinoids” such as CBN or delta-8 products are now required to go through a review process to determine if they meet the standard of “New Dietary Ingredient,” with 18 months to ensure compliance.

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Home delivery services will also be permitted in any city or county that allows it, and the OLCC is making plans to create a new section on its website to inform consumers about new delivery zones.

Marks concluded the press release with a reminder that there were many factors to these changes and the OLCC is confident it will improve the industry going forward. “We did listen to the public and did make significant changes to these rules, and I want to reiterate that we have come a very long way,” said Marks. “And this industry established success for Oregon. We are creating a successful business market, a successful consumer market. This is another big turn of progress.”

Oregon has met a variety of hurdles recently, including the still-thriving black market—so much that it was declared a state of emergency. However, legislation such as Senate Bill 893 is being crafted to combat illegal cultivation for the time being. Still, the state was also chosen to receive a $10 million grant to continue hemp research through the Global Innovation Center at Oregon State University. The grant program is known to be competitive, and Oregon researchers at OSU shared that they felt fortunate to be chosen among other elite institutions to receive the funds.

4 comments

The laws are perfectly designed to help the state make more money off the consumer. When will consumers be able to purchase seeds and clones from a shop to grow in their own household? According to Forbes Magazine there n have been break throughs in creating synthetic and artifical cannabinoids. Will that research be part of the new coined term artificially derived cannabinoids? How long before those will be sold in conjuction with actual cannabis? Either way, there will always be a black market for cannabis as long as there is a government still regulating it.

You can legally buy seeds or clones in Oregon, however the demand for either is surprisingly low. Call the dispensary’s near you, one of them has some clones they would love to see tended to.

Good for Oregon.

The City of Portland, State of Oregon and the cannabis regulators fail miserably at unbiased regulation, instead opting for un-authorized, multi-jurisdictional and trauma inducing scheme to obtain a prime location for an associate and owner of a well-known chain of Oregon dispensaries. This was accomplished by Oregon State Police Sargeant Tyler Bechtel and his network of regulators and law enforcement that formed a chain of misconduct from Portland Cannabis Program, City of Portland -where Bechtel has a close family member named Bechtel who’s name appears on tampered with records that are relevant to this case., Multnomah County Sheriff, Linn County Sheriff, Yamhill County Sheriff,, and Oregon State Police Northwest Region Marijuana Team and Yamhill County Inter-Agency Narcotics Team. as WE BECOME AWARE OF ACTS DONE BY THESE TASK FORCES ACCROSS THE COUNTRY, like California, Oregon and the East Coast where a task force was caught doing exactly what was done right here in Portland, Oregon. They came on their own time. They participated in a multi-jurisdictional and unauthorized mission to put an African American Woman, born and raised in Portland, out of business, into handcuffs, into a trial defending her life and being threatened with 10 years in prison, because they wanted her location. They were able to, in concert with another, access state licensing through state computers impersonating the victim and making it appear on 9/4/18 that the victim submitted an intent to withdraw from OHA medical dispensary registry, and then unknown to the victim refunded the license. Then on 8/11/18 same actors accessed and tampered with OLCC retailer application chewing up the complete application like a game of pac-man rendering it incomplete and continuing to tamper with the application trying to cover the misconduct unaware they were already being watched by the victim, Then on 9/19/18, the OSP task force and Yamhill County arrived at victim’s business and home and like the other task forces across the country, took everything of value the victim had, and her entire summer crop, that had just fished drying hours prior. They told the victim there would be no charges. They did something different. They put in the effort to make this look like an official search and seizure authorized by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Marshall. On 12/1/2021 the victim was informed by Judge Marshall’s clerk, who confirmed the victim’s suspicion, that the search warrant presented on 9/19/18 was NOT signed ny the judge. Then it got worse and the trauma flowed freely surrounding the victim as she learned that the 7 arrests she has been subjected to over the past 3 years were also, NOT authorized by the court, by a judge. In fact, no arrest warrants exist for 7 unlawful, traumatic incidents when the victim, was taken against her will AND HELD AS A PRISONER.
So, when you hear cannabis news this is the unheard Oregon cannabis news and the abuse going on right now, against an exhausted Disabled Black Woman and her business,
Hi, I am Trina Tree. I have a story to tell, Not, my story. My story is of love and trying to be kind every day and treating others with compassion. This story is one of public servants who thought so highly of themselves and their intelligence and so little of mine that the collective arrogance within their network fueled their confidence that they would remain undetected. They underestimated this Black Girl. Yes, I can read. No, you are not going to get away with it, in fact the FBI is investigating all of your dumb asses right now- identity theft, mail fraud, wire fraud, 7 kidnappings, selling drugs- sounds like RICO. to go along with US 42 Section 1983 I am so anxious to file.
One of the major mistakes these idiots made was sending me, by mistake, images and screen shots of the vicious, bad faith tampering of my licenses, along with an affidavit and police report by involved officer’s who clearly state they accessed the licenses at the exact moment the tampering occurred. I sold my home -that was paid off. and that I raised my four children in to open a dispensary, I made a sacrifice so I could participate in Oregon’s legal; industry. My roots in cannabis are far deeper than Oregon’s new regulation, which apparently consists of a toolbox full of free passes to break local, state and federal laws, commit multiple constitutional violations, cross any county line and enter and major city, home or business you choose with no limitations or authorization from a court or police department. They must also have a template to pump out fake search warrants and a judges’ signature simulator and fake arrest warrant generator for all counties. All of that along with the right they apparently were born with- the ability to weaponize their whiteness under color of law and use their weaponized selves to attack a Black Woman, placing her like trash or recycling at the curb of her intentionally destroyed Minority Business, Content she will not be heard of again and on her way to prison. This is evidenced by their associates dispensary open in my spot. I, Trina Tree will not stop until this story is heard. You would think a fake search warrant, 7 false arrests, and the Riverdance these fools did upon the fourth amendment would get some attention- and all the evidence-WOW!! If you read this you gotta hear the full story, including the DDA involved and removed from his position and multiple resignations from others involved. We have a big scoop of fake DPSST numbers and fake warrant returns and fake lab slips. CASE # 19cr15793 Oregon Multnomah County. I am still defending myself against two felonies and they all know it is fake, I need a civil rights attorney willing to bitch slap these vicious, biased losers, piss off a bunch of jurisdictions spanning from the task force, the DDA corruption, Oregon State Police need to get it. The main officer involved is also the one who got the Cole Memo rescinded and brought heat from Sessions. Same guy.

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