Grants Allow Deputies to Focus on Marijuana
JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. – The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) will receive a grant award of more than $573,000 from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to help with enforcement of marijuana laws. Earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1544, creating the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement grant program. The grant is designed to help law enforcement agencies address the local impact of the illegal marijuana market.
The funds will allow the creation of a multi-agency team consisting of investigators from JCSO and the Medford Police Department, as well as a crime analyst and a prosecutor. The state grant requires that the positions be dedicated specifically to the enforcement of marijuana laws.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler says the grant is a step in the right direction, and he looks forward to getting the team up and running.
“With the new grant, we will be able to begin recruiting for new deputies soon, but it will take time to get them hired and trained,” Sickler said. The positions on the multi-agency team will be filled by current deputies as job openings are filled by new employees.
In the meantime, JCSO is taking advantage of a federal grant to focus on problems that affect livability for Jackson County residents. Among the greatest needs is addressing complaints involving marijuana, which have increased since recreational and commercial production was legalized.
Two deputy positions are funded by a grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Deputies Michael Hermant and David Bartlett were selected to fill the two COPS grant-funded positions, which went into service on July 1, 2018. Their ability to focus on ongoing problems frees patrol deputies to respond to everyday calls for service.
“Our deputies get a lot of complaints related to marijuana grows such as extra traffic, odors, and neighbor disputes,” said Deputy Hermant. “We are able to take the time to look into each case, and then work with other agencies to find the best solution.”
The deputies work to determine whether a marijuana grow is operating legally. Rules vary depending on whether the grow is recreational, commercial, or medical. The deputies contact authorities such as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) to check the legal status of the grow.
Ongoing problems with permitting and compliance are referred to agencies such as Jackson County Code Enforcement or the Watermaster’s Office. Large overproduction cases may be forwarded to local drug enforcement units such as the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement unit, or to the Oregon State Police Southwest Region Marijuana Team for further investigation.
So far, the majority of the growers the deputies have contacted based on complaints have initially been out of compliance in some aspect. In minor cases, deputies provide education to growers and give them an opportunity to bring their grows into compliance prior to enforcement action being taken.
Some growers are operating completely outside of legal parameters, however. An example is a recent case at a rural property near Gold Hill. After investigating the initial complaint, deputies found a large grow with no permits or OMMP association. They served a search warrant on September 4 and removed nearly 90 plants, which were destroyed.
Nobody was present at the property during the warrant service, so no arrests were made at that time. The case remains under investigation.
The COPS deputies expect to have more time to devote to other problems in the community once marijuana harvest season has completed. They already have plans to attend neighborhood meetings this fall to help address citizen concerns. They are also spending time in rural schools, assisting with the JCSO School Safety Deputy program.
Anyone with a complaint regarding a marijuana-related issue, or any other problem, can call dispatch at (541) 776-7206. After contact with a patrol deputy, applicable cases will be forwarded to the COPS deputies.