The legalization of hemp and marijuana in some states but not others has created a whole raft of difficult and often dangerous unexpected consequences.
First, the plants of hemp and marijuana look alike and without testing, one cannot tell the difference. Hemp, used ostensibly for CBD oils, is in substantial oversupply in Southern Oregon and there are storage facilities with many tons that cannot be sold. But marijuana is extremely profitable because there are only 22 states where it is fully legal and the public’s desire for this reasonably benign recreational drug seems to know no bounds.
Here in Southern Oregon, we have the ideal weather conditions for growing hemp and marijuana, and both are legal, except that commercial marijuana requires permits and other restrictions. Consequently, there are now hundreds of marijuana/hemp grows; some small and many large with virtually no oversight as to legality. Many are highly professional and run by cartels from outside the country with human trafficking and use of illegal pesticides in many instances, as reported in the Mail Tribune Sept. 3.
There is also a substantial tax loss to both state and federal agencies. Marijuana is considered a controlled substance by the federal goverment, so banks will not hold the cash nor provide bank accounts that can issue checks. Therefore, the money used to pay workers has to be in cash and there is no paper trail to follow that taxes the payrolls or the profits. Hemp is no longer classifed as a controlled substance, but banks are still leery of doing business with the industry and either will not do so or charge exorbitant fees. Who knows how many owners and workers there are in these industries that happily receive cash and never pay any taxes?
Inadvertently, these industries have created a really serious farm labor shortage. Marijuana and food crops are harvested at the same time. There is obviously a great incentive to a worker to be paid in cash and because of the huge profit that is made from marijuana sales, this lndustry has it choice of labor and can pay substantial wages to these workers. Because of the higher wages in cash, this has caused a huge shortage of labor to the local fruit and vegetable agricultural industries who operate under the usual standards of paying by check and reporting taxes. I know of one farmer who had to let his fields of organic vegetables rot when he could not find any labor to harvest them.
And there is the stealing of water by water truck companies from wherever it can be obtained and drilling of wells to obtain water from the ground, which is also not allowed for agriculture in Southern Oregon. And all of this in the driest year in recent history.
Property owners who have vacant lands that they lease to illegal marijuana growers and cartels are also at risk. Due to the huge profits in this industry, the people who want to lease land can offer unheard of prices per acre which makes it difficult for normal farmers to compete in leasing land to grow food. But to knowingly lease land to an illegal grower makes the landowner liable and they can face legal problems.
We definitely need a uniform federal regulation of this industry that is the same for each state.
This patchwork of legal and illegal is resulting in chaos, especially here in Southern Oregon. Marijuana is a rather innocuous recreational drug, but the laws around it have created severe problems throughout the county and encouraged lawlessness and danger to many people.
A uniform system would also reduce the enormous profits in this industry that are encouraging the entry of cartels and other criminal elements into this business. Let’s legalize marijuana nationally and be done with all these problems.
Traute Moore is owner of Quail Run Vineyards and South Stage Cellars.