Illegal Marijuana Growing Licenses Are a Problem In OK. One Senator Is Proposing a Federal Solution.
The year after marijuana was legalized on a medical basis, Oklahoma saw a significant increase in land purchased by foreign entities. There’s evidence that this is connected to transnational drug trafficking organizations taking advantage of cheap access to foreign capital and finding ways to fly under the radar as they operate. It’s believed that some foreign land owners are growing marijuana and illegally distributing it across other parts of the country, where cannabus is not yet legal. In fact, Oklahoma is now the No. 1 supplier of marijuana in the United States.
U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) plans to introduce a bill (called the Security and Oversight for International Landholdings Act of 2022) to make foreign land purchase more transparent in the state of Oklahoma, and the rest of the country. The initiative to vet all foreign purchases of agricultural land represents part of a push to clamp down on the potential for transnational corporations to continue human rights abuses abroad and conduct illegal business domestically here in the United States through economic loopholes that exist due to a lack of clear policy.
Why Is This Issue of Interest to Law Enforcement Agencies?
So, what does this have to do with drug enforcement? The main reason this issue is of interest to national policy makers is because it involves possible illegal drug trafficking. There are currently an increasing number of international criminal organizations obtaining backdoor licenses to grow marijuana in Oklahoma. These licenses give them the ability to grow marijuana under the guise of manufacturing for medical use, but they funnel their supply around the country to make money off black market or street sales.
This kind of loophole being exploited by transnational criminal entities is an example of how the fiscal side of the international drug trade works on the ground. Policy makers are then tasked with making sure the industry is well-regulated. In Oklahoma, all actions taken throughout the process of an international financial transaction, like a land sale or the acquisition of a marijuana growing license, must be fully legal. This prevents negative outcomes for Oklahomans and other Americans, as well as stops illegal drug trafficking in the U.S.
Immediate Effects of the State-Level Crackdown
In 2021, the Oklahoma State Senate approved HB2272, a bill that ensures disclosure of foreign investments in medical marijuana businesses and requires periodic inspection of facilities. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) cut the number of licenses for cultivators by 21.8% since December 2021, as it cracks down on improper licensing, including licenses for entities that failed to fill out paperwork showing the growing company was owned by a foreign firm. The crack down on illicit licensing has also seen the charging of two Tulsa-area lawyers, who initiated a “ghost ownership” scheme. The Tulsa World reported on the scheme:
[The two lawyers were] providing people to “stand-in as lawful Oklahoma residents to meet the residency requirements for any applicant who cannot meet the 75% residency requirement” written into State Question 788, through which voters legalized medical marijuana in Oklahoma. The investigation, initiated by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, revealed that Jones and Brown directed medical marijuana businesses to sign consulting agreements with Jones Brown’s employees to act as “ghost owners” of the medical marijuana operation. State law requires that an entity to be licensed be at least 75% owned by an Oklahoma resident. If an individual is going to get the license, the person must be an Oklahoma resident.
Furthermore, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said that “it has been estimated that Oklahoma illegally exports more than 80% of the marijuana that is grown in-state. Oklahoma is now the number one supplier of marijuana in the United States.”
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