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Lawmakers pass bills on illegal cannabis trade, rents and drought relief |

ONTARIO— The 2021 Oregon Legislature got to work in its second special session on Monday, with the Senate and House of Representatives passing legislation on rent relief, drought relief and illegal housing activity. cannabis. Senate Bills 891, 892 and 893 are now heading to Governor Kate Brown’s desk, and each carries a declaration of emergency, making it effective upon signing.

A testimony on the illegal cannabis trade “will make you cringe”

While the legal cannabis trade is alive and well in Oregon, so is the illegal trade. Lawmakers hope to steer the ship away from it by bolstering law enforcement and criminal prosecution through a grant program. They say the problem is on the rise in southern Oregon to the point that some longtime agricultural producers are quitting or talking about quitting the business. A summary of Senate Bill 893 says the cultivation and distribution of cannabis contrary to state rules is causing a “humanitarian crisis.”

This crisis was explained by several senators during the extraordinary session on Monday. Senator Betsy Johnson said in a public hearing on Saturday, “some of the most disturbing testimony comes from legitimate farmers surrounded by illegal cannabis crops.” She said farmers and even members of law enforcement were afraid of the cartels which were heavily armed and some were large scale, with up to 200 employees.

Senator Tim Knopp noted that farmers have been threatened for their water rights and that organic farmers also face pesticide issues.

“Our fellow Oregonians don’t deserve to live in fear in their communities that they…become a statistic if they come across someone who says to them, ‘Your water doesn’t belong to you anymore,’ and if you use, they will “take care of ‘you.”

“Nothing I’ve read in the summary even suggests that we understand how we got here,” Johnson said, later adding, “The answer is to stop these operations and let it be known that the Oregon will no longer be a drug state.”

Senator Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said testimony about the bill’s impact of illegal trade on residents of southern Oregon and the northern Willamette Valley “will make you cringe “.

He further indicated that SB 893 was a band-aid on a bigger problem, adding that $20 million for a grant funding program and $5 million to deal with water theft were not enough to the long-term commitment needed to get ahead of the problem.

“I think we are missing the boat and need to put more emphasis on it,” the District 30 senator said.

He also said growers with 5 acres and 200 acres face the same penalties.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Findley said.

He and his colleagues say the goal is to increase law enforcement capacity, which will be done through the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program.

Program rules will include prioritizing funding for local law enforcement agencies and district attorneys in rural areas to address, investigate, and prosecute illegal large-scale marijuana grow or distribute operations, including those that divert marijuana out of state.

Additional funding would be provided to law enforcement agencies to partner with community organizations to address the current crisis, including assistance and services for people affected by the crisis, for example the translation, accommodation and legal assistance.

Findley noted that there should be a state plan that addresses the state police capacity issue to help prevent producers from simply moving to another county after only dealing with law enforcement. county order when closing.

“So they know they will be hunted down and bankrupted,” he said.

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Dist. 9, noted that in 1975-77 the Oregon State Police numbered 726 for 2.2 million Oregonians, indicating that today there are 454 OSP members for 4, 5 million Oregonians.

“There is no excuse for these numbers,” he said. “Until those numbers go up, you might as well send out an invitation card for the cartels to come and do business in Oregon.”

wKnopp said the cartels came from several countries – China, Russia, Israel and Mexico – adding that they moved to Oregon because it was “cheaper and easier and they had made significant profits doing it”.

He further explained the problems of human trafficking for labor that are associated with the large-scale illegal cultivation of cannabis, saying that these cannabis workers lived in “unsanitary conditions” and that he had heard reports making state of children detained in other countries while parents were forced to work.

The only way to stop the illegal cannabis trade is an overwhelming law enforcement response, Knopp said. There have been several recent large-scale raids which are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

Tenants and owners

Senate Bill 891 will extend safe harbor protections for non-payment of rent to tenants who have requested emergency assistance and provided documentation to their landlord through June 30 or until June 30. that the respective request is processed.

Additionally, it guarantees payments to landlords whose tenants end up not qualifying.

On the court Monday afternoon, Knopp said small homeowners were getting out of the business, with single-family homes being sold at maximum prices. He noted that several hundred million dollars had already been spent on the matter and that although June 30 was the quoted sunset, Oregon Community Housing had indicated that it would have finished processing a backlog of applications by March. Knopp explained that the later date was there in case there were any unused funds or new federal dollars allocated, so people could apply “one last time,” noting that SB 891 ends the relief program. COVID-19 rents.

As part of the agreement, $5 million will be provided to Oregon Housing and Community Services to expedite the processing of applications. An additional $10 million will be paid into the Landlord Guarantee Fund, ensuring landlords are “repaired if a tenant who has applied for assistance is not eligible.” The rent relief program will be replenished with $100 million and another $100 million will go to local agencies for eviction protection programs. If there is money left in the rent relief program, further applications for assistance may be taken.

Subsidy loans for farmers, herders

Senate Bill 892 directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture to establish a forgivable loan program to obtain funds for agricultural and livestock producers who have lost their gross farm income in 2021, by due to an eligible natural disaster.

The Senate Republicans drought package to help farmers recover from the summer heatwave is $99.275 million.

In ground testimony on Monday, Findley, who covers District 30, said the creation of a repayable farm loan was a “vital step” for farmers and ranchers affected by drought, wildfires , winter storms and the heat wave. The program will allow “farmers and ranchers in financial difficulty to receive the assistance necessary to keep their operations above water”.

He noted that some counties, including Klamath and Jefferson, were hit hard, with channels “delivering zero” in August. He further noted that some municipal water systems had wells that had gone “dry”, with irrigation districts in the respective areas providing much needed support by drastically reducing water allocations to help compensate.

He said that in Prairie City, the municipality ran out of water towards the end of June and had to start drawing water from an outside source, which it did all summer. Nobody there could wash their car, water their lawn or waste water in any other way.

“This package affects these people,” he said.

Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Dist. 22, noted that he was very supportive of the bill and that although many of his constituents were unaware of the seriousness of the drought problems in the state, when they heard about it, he was very clear that they “want to see something done to help these people…because, quite simply, they like to eat.

Senator Kathleen Taylor, D-Dist. 21, noted that the bill was “long overdue,” noting that while a massive investment was made during the long session earlier this year, they didn’t have the funds for that kind of investment. at this moment.

“Going forward, it would be great if we could all work together on this issue,” she noted. “Water is something we will be dealing with every session. Oregon, like many states, will have to start thinking about water and treating it differently.

For more information on the Oregon Legislature, visit https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/.