MEDFORD, Ore. — A funding windfall will allow the Jackson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) to turn up the heat on illegal marijuana growing operations, according to a JCSO statement released on Thursday.
“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,” said Sheriff Sickler.
The more than $573,000 grant from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission is slated for the creation of a "multi-agency team consisting of investigators from JCSO and the Medford Police Department," plus a new crime analyst and prosecutor.
Positions on the team will be filled by current deputies until job openings can be filled by new employees, JCSO says.
According to JCSO the grant comes specifically from the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement program, established by a law passed earlier this year, which requires that the grants be dedicated to positions focused on the enforcement of marijuana laws.
JCSO is also the recipient of a federal grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, and two deputies have already been hired to address "complaints involving marijuana" that affect livability for Jackson County residents.
“Our deputies get a lot of complaints related to marijuana grows such as extra traffic, odors, and neighbor disputes,” said Deputy Michael Hermant, one of the new deputies hired under the COPS program. “We are able to take the time to look into each case, and then work with other agencies to find the best solution.”
JCSO says that having the new deputies focused on marijuana compliance-related complaints will free up other deputies for "everyday calls for service."
The majority of growers that deputies have contacted based on complaints have been initially out of compliance to some extent, JCSO says. In most cases, deputies have only had to "provide education" on Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) and Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) regulations, giving them an opportunity to bring their grow operations into compliance before enforcement action is taken.
"Some growers are operating completely outside of legal parameters, however," the JCSO statement reads. "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."
In that example, however, no one was present at the property when deputies arrived and so no arrests were made.
JCSO expects that their new COPS deputies will have more time to devote to other problems in the community once the marijuana harvest season is over. They hope to attend neighborhood meetings in the fall to address citizen concerns, plus time spent in rural schools as part of the JCSO School Safety Deputy program.