Despite Oklahoma enforcement officials shutting down more than 800 unregulated cannabis grows since 2021, the state’s attorney general says work to deter Mexican drug cartels and Chinese crime syndicates remains ongoing.
Gentner Drummond touted in a September column his efforts since taking the attorney general’s office in January to help combat illicit activity and criminal organizations associated with Oklahoma’s state-licensed medical cannabis program.
“This threat to public safety has exacted a heavy toll, particularly in rural Oklahoma, and it must not be tolerated,” he wrote. “The time to act is now.”
When Oklahoma first implemented a medical cannabis program that included an unlimited license structure with cheap entrance fees (starting at $2,500 for cultivation) following a June 2018 ballot measure, the state quickly became known as the wild west of weed. State officials have largely been trying to gain control of this “free-market program” since.
Notably, there are more than 6,300 licensed growers to serve roughly 352,000 registered patients in the state as of August 2023, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA). That’s one commercial cultivator for every 56 patients.
Oklahoma’s cultivation license total now outpaces California, a state that has roughly 10 times as many residents with an adult-use market that serves its broader population.
And Oklahoma’s licensing total has decreased 33% from a roughly 9,400-grower peak in December 2021. While the economic state of the broader U.S. cannabis industry has played a role in the decrease, so too has a two-year licensing moratorium that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law in May 2022.
Drummond noted the state of Oklahoma’s industry in his column.
“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,” he wrote. He added that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) has shut down more than 800 grow operations, eradicated 650,000 pounds of cannabis and arrested 200-plus individuals since 2021.
Despite these enforcement actions, Oklahoma’s cannabis supply outpaces demand by at least 32 times, according to a June 2023 statewide market assessment commissioned by OMMA officials.
Based on OMMA reports, Drummond said more than 22 million cannabis plants grown in Oklahoma are likely being diverted toward out-of-state markets.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
The state began providing financial support in that regard before Drummond took office.
In May 2022, Stitt signed legislation to increase funding for medical cannabis enforcement to crack down on unlicensed activity in the state. Specifically, the legislation created a revolving fund that earmarks $5 million annually for county sheriffs to dedicate an officer to the OMMA.
Still, Drummond said his office has taken direct action by way of creating the first Organized Crime Task Force, a new division within his office, that is comprised of cannabis eradication experts who are targeting “foreign drug cartels and Chinese nationals” in partnership with the OBN and OMMA.
Additionally, the attorney general said he is insisting that the State Fire Marshal enforce building codes at cannabis grow facilities because “the legal and legitimate businesses will have no problem complying” with rules that other agribusinesses are also required to follow.
“Our message to the drug cartels is loud and clear: Leave now or be prepared to face the consequences,” Drummond wrote. “My office will not relent in our commitment to eliminating these criminal enterprises.”
This content was originally published here.