Hemp Field Inspections in Southern Oregon Reveal Staggering Number of Illicit Cannabis Operations

More than half of the registered hemp fields tested in Southern Oregon this summer are actually growing THC-rich cannabis as regulators admit they lack the resources to eliminate the still-thriving illicit market that threatens the state’s legal adult-use industry.

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) adopted temporary rules in to allow the agency to work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to test registered hemp fields across the state to determine if the farmers are growing legal hemp (containing less than 0.3% THC) or illegal cannabis (containing more than 0.3% THC).

The emergency rules stemmed from the implementation of House Bill 3000, which aimed to regulate cannabis intoxicants (including delta-8), curb the illegal production of cannabis, bring Oregon into compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill, and establish a task force to address the regulation and marketing of cannabis cultivation in the state.

That task force was deployed at the end of for “Operation Table Rock,” which saw agents from the OLCC, the ODA and law enforcement set out to test the THC content of plants at the 335 registered hemp grow sites in Jackson and Josephine Counties. The emergency rules set a THC limit of 5% for these farms.

RELATED: Oregon Launches Hemp Field Inspections to Crack Down on Illicit Cannabis Operations

During a Sept. 23 OLCC meeting, Rich Evan, senior director of licensing and compliance, said regulators had visited a total of 316 of the 335 locations to date. Test results were available for 212 of those 316 locations, Evan said, and 114 of the 212 farms tested had plants containing more than 5% THC.

“This is surprising everyone right now that I’ve been talking to that the number was that high,” Mason Walker, CEO of East Fork Cultivars, told Cannabis Business Times and Hemp Grower. East Fork grows both cannabis and hemp at its operation in Josephine County. “We all expected … a couple dozen, maybe, to come out of that action. It’s pretty wild that it was virtually half of the farms inspected that were growing high-THC [cannabis].”

Walker said “there are a lot of bad actors” in Southern Oregon.

“If you drive around Southern Oregon near our farm, it is full of illicit cannabis—just everywhere,” he said. “It always has been, but it’s always been family-scale. … What’s different this year over any year is it is very clearly not family-scale illicit cannabis. It is commercial-scale, organized illicit cannabis.”

The highest level of THC revealed during the hemp field inspections was 32.9%, Evan said, adding that the statistics announced during the OLCC’s Sept. 23 meeting were accurate as of Sept. 16.

“We actually have people going out today and following up on some of these issues,” he told commissioners during the meeting. “There are 104 other locations. Twenty of them are in the process of being tested. Fifty-nine of the locations were not growing anything—it was just bare fields.”

At East Fork, Walker said the team was happy to show agents around when they arrived to test the plants. The company’s farm

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