If cannabis growers in Oregon don’t clean up their act, literally, soon landowners will pay the price as their migrant workers risk deportation. Oregon is an oasis for cannabis growing. According to AP News, a leader of the state’s cannabis and alcohol regulatory agency has said southern Oregon is to marijuana what Bordeaux is to wine. 

However, some folks with less-than-ideal ethics risk ruining the land for everyone. The state is facing a crisis of illicit growers who offer large amounts of cash upfront to lease or buy land. However, giving cannabis a bad name, it seems they are only growing for profit and not considering other factors such as the fate of the land or their workers. Such growers are leaving behind a drained water table, pollution, and garbage scattered everywhere. Now, Oregon Legislature is trying to pass a new bill to curtail such adverse effects by making the landowners themselves directly responsible. 

If passed, the bill would stop using groundwaters and rivers — and seize documents of the migrant workers who take care of the plants, thereby reporting them for deportation, AP News reports. And, if the landowner, regardless if they caused it, does not pay for any cleanup, then the government would be allowed to file a claim of lien against property used for illicit cannabis. 

So far, the bill has passed in the Senate and House, with Speaker Dan Rayfield signing the measure on Wednesday, despite protests from some Republicans. “This is just an assault on property rights here in the state of Oregon,” GOP Sen. Dennis Linthicum said on the Senate floor. 

If all goes as planned, Oregon’s Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek will sign the bill next week. “The governor supports cracking down on illegal cannabis operations that have been prevalent in southern Oregon,” said Elisabeth Shepard, Kotek’s spokesperson.

In this economy, it’s understandable why some landowners transferred their land to sketchy buyers or leasers. AP News describes buyers handing over backpacks with thousands of dollars in cash and, sometimes, more than one backpack of bills to choose from. “We pay CASH and offer a fast close,” says one letter received by a landowner last year in one of three offers.

But not everyone is sympathetic to the appeal of fast cash. Democratic Sen. Jeff Golden said property owners should know something wrong if they are “approached at the beginning of the growing season with requests to lease their property for tens, sometimes hundreds of thousand dollars for a single year.”

According to Oregon police, part of the problem is that the lush land brought in an influx of foreign criminals from everywhere, from Russia to Mexico, looking to profit in America’s cannabis market. So many hoop houses (cheaply built greenhouses) began popping up that local authorities didn’t have the workforce to shut them all down. The farms in question are known for putting up their workers in horrid conditions, with open latrines, and will often dock their pay. 

And, according to Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler, when the growers wrap up, no one bothers to clean up any of the waste, whether it’s from an outhouse or greenhouse. “Frankly, it’s an eyesore for our community, with no means to deal with it,” Sickler said.

While the prospect of the bill stresses many landowners out, others welcome it, AP reports. At least most of the landowners knew what they were doing was wrong. I believe this measure will help to stem the tide,” said Jack Dwyer, a homeowner near Selm, Oregon. Back in 2021, Dwyer said a large illicit nearby grow siphoned all the water from a creek that runs through his property, causing it to run dry. And Christopher Hall, whose job it is to engage the public in water stewardship, believes the bill will finally address the problem. Hall says that these cash-bought illegal grow farms “not only turn streams into gravel roads but also lead to serious human rights violations and dumping of trash, sewage, chemicals, and other waste into ditches, riparian areas, and streams.” 

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