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Oklahoma Narcotics Bureau Investigating 2,000 Potentially Illegal Grow Licenses

The most recent report of Tulsa WorldAccording to Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, there are approximately 2,000 unlicensed cannabis companies in Oklahoma. “We’ve got close to 2,000 under investigation,” said Mark Woodward, with the Public Information Office at OBNDD. “We’re working with our partners to identify the criminal networks involved.”

Woodward said that many licenses were linked to illegal activities. Recently in December 2022, four people were killed “execution style” at a cannabis cultivation facility in Kingfisher County, which is located northwest of Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority states that the property’s owners had a license for medical cannabis cultivation. However, OBNDD agents claim the license was illegally obtained.

Woodward claimed that many of those who work at illegal cultivation sites often are foreign nationals. “The only thing it did was it shined a light on something we’ve been saying for the last four years,” Woodward said. “It’s the same violent criminal organizations.”

Woodward stated that while 200 cannabis operations were closed down by law enforcement in the area, the OBNDD was still trying to find the criminal source. But until that investigation yields results, Woodward believes that Oklahoma’s medical cannabis industry will continue to suffer. “Something not talked about much is that the legitimate industry is bleeding to death,” Woodward added.

In March last year, people posing as police officers executed fake search warrants at many cannabis cultivation sites. They robbed 100 pounds of marijuana, machines, cash and phones. Woodward spoke out about the attack on marijuana businesses because cannabis remains federally illegal. He said that they are now forced to deal mainly in cash.

“These farms where there are oftentimes Chinese workers who don’t speak English—they won’t recognize traditional law enforcement,” Woodward told Chronic News. “They’re not familiar with what Oklahoma law enforcement or what uniforms might look like or what a fraudulent warrant looks like compared to legitimate ones. This is why these criminals have this mindset. That’s why they targeted these specific farms. They saw it as an easy opportunity to take advantage of these workers and hit the farm and take product.” 

Tulsa WorldIt was shared that Frank Lucas (third district congressman) and 20 other members of Congress sent a July 2022 letter to the U.S. Tom Vilsack, the Agricultural Secretary of Oklahoma regarding the foreign purchase of Oklahoma property. According to the letter, foreign land ownership increased “from 13,720 to 352,140 acres between 2010 and 2020.”

“We are alarmed by the pace at which Chinese companies have been purchasing U.S. agricultural land in recent years. Given this trend, we want to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the reporting tools necessary to provide Americans with the fullest possible picture of all foreign purchases of United States land,” the letter stated.

There were 9400 medical marijuana cultivators licensed in December 2021. The number of medical marijuana cultivators licensed in December 2021 was lower than a year earlier. 7,086 licenses. There is currently a moratorium for new licenses. This was in place from August 2022 to August 2024.

Medical cannabis was legalized through a voter initiative in 2018, but the state’s low cost of entry (only $2,500 annually) for a cannabis license opened the doors to out-of-state parties. A newer bill, House Bill 2179, was later passed by the governor in May 2022 to increase the annual fees based on the size of a facility or a dispensary’s sales. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, this doesn’t go into effect until June 1, 2023.

Oklahoma’s illegal cannabis activities have been controlled in numerous ways. But advocates for legalizing recreational marijuana are hoping to make a breakthrough in March. Gov. Kevin Stitt chose March 7 to hold a special election for the publication of the voter initiative. State Question 820, if passed would allow adult-use marijuana to be legalized and permit cannabis cultivation and sale.

“After all the delays caused by the new signature count process, we are excited to finally be on the ballot on March 7, 2023, so that Oklahomans can experience the benefits of the State Question without further delay,” said Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Law Campaign Director Michelle Tilley. “We are grateful the voices of over 164,000 Oklahomans who signed the petition and want to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in Oklahoma have been heard.”

This was initially supposed to appear on the November 2022 ballot. But, it wasn’t certified in time.