After less than a year in operation, a groundbreaking partnership between the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and the Bend Police Department designed to crack down on criminal marijuana operations has already yielded results.
The partnership has resulted in 11 search warrants and 14 arrests over the last six months, according to data presented at a Deschutes County Commission meeting on Tuesday. During that period, detectives working for Bend Police and the sheriff’s office confiscated around $1.5 million in assets, and an estimated $15 million in marijuana.
“We’re busy, very busy,” said Deschutes County sheriff’s Detective Todd Kloss, who started in July.
Kloss works in tandem with a similar cannabis-only detective from Bend Police, responding to complaints made by rural residents about nearby marijuana operations that may have a criminal component.
The partnership is the result of a push last summer to increase local enforcement, after Deschutes County officials concluded that an oversaturated legal market for marijuana, combined with a lack of oversight from state agencies, could be contributing to black-market activities in the county.
“This is part of the transition from the 20-year, don’t-ask, don’t-tell medical program to whatever it’s going to look like in the next few years,” Commissioner Tony DeBone said during the Tuesday meeting.
If the black-market cannabis had gone through Oregon’s recreational market, Kloss estimated it would have generated $2.7 million in taxes. And he said the team is currently working through a 15-case backlog.
“It’s usually not one person and one grow site,” Kloss said.
Deschutes County finalized its rules for recreational marijuana operations outside of Bend in fall 2016, but county commissioners and some rural residents remain concerned about the possibility of black-market activity still taking place in the now-legal industry.
“I do support putting pressure on the bad actors out there,” DeBone said.
Oregon’s recreational marijuana industry produces significantly more cannabis than the state purchases, creating a glut in the system. State and local officials have long been concerned that some of the excess marijuana is traveling out of state lines illegally. Kloss noted that the state agencies that oversee the medical and recreational programs lack the resources to respond to every cannabis-related complaint.
“Nobody has any teeth, really,” Kloss said during the meeting.
Because of that, the County Commission pushed for more local enforcement. Sgt. William Bailey, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said the agency talked with the County Commission as well as Bend Police and adopted a joint approach that would focus on marijuana-specific crime throughout Deschutes County.
Bailey said the majority of the cases referred to the team came from Deschutes County’s code enforcement department. Since 2016, the county has investigated 89 possible violations related to marijuana, ranging from odor and noise complaints to the possibility of criminal activity.
Lori Furlong, administrative manager for Deschutes County, said code enforcement investigators will refer cases to the detectives if they have an idea that there’s something illegal taking place, or if they can’t confirm that a grow is legal or compliant.
A number of sources, including a report commissioned by Deschutes County, have attributed much of the illegal activity to medical growers, who face less oversight than recreational growers. However, Kloss said that hasn’t always been the case in his experience. He said a few infractions have been recreational growers who have started growing before receiving final approval from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, who has been critical of Oregon’s approach to recreational marijuana in the past, praised the program, saying Kloss has exceeded his expectations so far. Given the backlog of cases, Nelson said he would be supportive of Deschutes County adding an additional detective to the team in the future.
“Detective Kloss has told us there’s more than enough work for an additional position,” Nelson said in a prepared statement.
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