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AG Column: Generally Speaking - September 2023

Since taking office in January, my administration has made it a top priority to combat illegal marijuana grow operations and the criminal organizations that are behind their proliferation. This threat to public safety has exacted a heavy toll, particularly in rural Oklahoma, and it must not be tolerated. The time to act is now.

When voters legalized medical marijuana five years ago, they most certainly did not foresee a scenario in which Oklahoma is growing far more marijuana than is being sold through legal channels. Since 2021, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) has shut down more than 800 illegal grow operations, arrested more than 200 criminals and seized more than 650,000 pounds of marijuana. While our law enforcement community has done a tremendous job, agents have their hands full. According to a recent Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) report, more than 22 million pot plants in our state are likely being diverted toward illegal sales in other states, flooding the nation’s black market for marijuana.

Unfortunately, lax laws combined with unclear jurisdiction and an ever-changing regulatory landscape have created an environment ripe for exploitation by Mexican drug cartels and Chinese crime syndicates. In response, I immediately began partnering with the OBN and OMMA to ensure that our enforcement partners have the legal and logistical support they needed from my office.

During our last Legislative session, we advocated a legislative agenda designed to create legal standards that allow easy compliance by legitimate businesses and create difficulties for illegal marijuana grows. Thanks to cooperation from key legislators, state agencies, law enforcement and the Governor’s office, we were able to pass multiple bills this session that made significant progress toward that goal. We have taken away key tools that were of benefit to organized crime while maintaining the business capacity of legitimate operators.

The Office of the Attorney General is taking other direct actions. I have created the first Organized Crime Task Force this office has ever known. A new division within my office, the Organized Crime Task Force is comprised of skilled experts dedicated to eliminating illegal marijuana grows operated by foreign drug cartels and Chinese nationals. This Task Force already has begun partnering with the OBN and OMMA and has assisted in taking down multiple illegal grows.

Additionally, I am insisting that the State Fire Marshall enforce building codes on marijuana grow operations. The legal and legitimate businesses will have no problem complying with the same rules that any other agribusiness must follow. The rest will be shut down, just as any other business without a certificate of occupancy would be shut down. I believe that aggressive code enforcement will aid in the elimination of illegal marijuana grows and help promote public safety.

Our message to the drug cartels is loud and clear: Leave now or be prepared to face the consequences. My office will not relent in our commitment to eliminating these criminal enterprises.