Oregon state regulators are trying to determine if growers in the state are legitimate hemp businesses or rogue operators growing cannabis in secret. For decades growers have cultivated unlicensed marijuana in southern Oregon and shipped it across the U.S.
Shutting down illegal growth could clamp down on the use of stolen groundwater and diverted surface water as well as the deployment of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.
House Bill 3000, signed into law in July, allows the newly renamed Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission and the Oregon Department of Agriculture to begin inspecting licensed hemp fields across the state to ensure that the registered hemp growers are not growing marijuana instead. This new program is believed to be among the first of its kind in the cannabis industry.
“These illegal grows are taking advantage of the sweat and hard work the legal grows have gone through to stay compliant,” said Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission spokesperson Mark Pettinger.
“(The illegal grows are) hurting both the THC and the hemp industry equally and making the cannabis industry as a whole look bad,” said Kim Stuck, founder of cannabis consultancy Allay Consulting.
“We need to protect the good actors,” said Courtney Moran, president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association. “If you’re a good actor and compliant, you have nothing to worry about.”
Some hemp industry representatives worry that legitimate growers could be caught up in the enforcement effort for inadvertently growing hemp that exceeds the 0.3% THC limit.
“I think it’s great they want to help the regulated industry, but I’m not sure this is the solution,” said Amy Margolis, a cannabis attorney based in Portland, Oregon. “How many good actors are you sweeping up in this? Cultivating hemp to stay under the legal limit is not an exact science.”
According to an Agriculture Department spokesperson, regulators have inspected 134 hemp farms in southern Oregon to take THC samples.
No illegal marijuana grows have been discovered yet.