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Nine Oklahoma farms targeted in $500M black market marijuana bust

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics

At least $500 million of black market marijuana was seized during a multi-agency operation led by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics this week, after a yearlong investigation of nine Oklahoma farms.

The operation targeted criminal organizations growing and trafficking marijuana for the black market. They are accused of laundering money and moving millions of dollars in proceeds overseas.

The bureau estimates around 100,000 plants and a ton of bulk-processed marijuana were seized in the busts. Thirteen arrest warrants were issued in Oklahoma, as well as others in California and Texas.

Search warrants were served at nine farms in Amber, Burneyville, Chandler, Chickasha, Madill, Ratliff City and Wilson, as well as three residential locations in Edmond, Mustang and Norman connected to illegal marijuana shipments and money laundering.

The agency said they will also be filing asset forfeiture on at least eight of the properties, as well as multiple vehicles, bank accounts, cash and equipment.

Bureau spokesperson Mark Woodward said in a Tuesday press conference that out-of-state and foreign criminal organizations have taken advantage of Oklahoma's program by "blending in, but yet breaking the rules."

"It’s much like we see with groups that are trafficking methamphetamine, cartels moving heroin; it is simply people involved in the criminal movement of marijuana on a commercial scale to the illicit market around the United States, and moving money — millions of dollars of money — worldwide," said Woodward.

The bureau said the investigation was one of many being undertaken around the state. The bust comes as several bills are making their way through the legislature that aim to reign in the state’s relatively easy-access marijuana business licensing process.

Loopholes lead to "ghost owners"

Last month, KOSU's Seth Bodine and The Frontier's Clifton Adcock reported on the booming industry of medical marijuana in Oklahoma, the lax laws governing it and the overwhelmed regulators in charge of enforcement.

Oklahoma has attracted 8,306 licensed commerical marijuana operations since 2019, outnumbering more populous states like California and Colorado. Observers have referred to Oklahoma as "the only free-market marijuana industry in the country," with 10 percent of the population carrying medical marijuana cards.

Regulators estimate that medical marijuana is already a billion-dollar industry in the state, second only to oil and natural gas.

The size and growth of the industry have outpaced regulators’ ability to keep up with enforcement. OMMA is required to physically inspect all licensed marijuana businesses in the state, but has visited less than half since the inception of the program, according to the agency.

The state laws governing medical marijuana grow operations have led to hundreds of cases of ghost owners — in-state residents who are owners of companies on paper only. The practice has opened the door to out-of-state and foreign-backed companies and individuals to control large portions of the state’s marijuana market.

Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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