Despite Legalization, Marijuana Black Market Hides In Plain Sight – NPR

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Okanogan County Chief Criminal Deputy Steve Brown surveys the debris left over from an illegal pot farm that had masqueraded as a legal operation. Martin Kaste/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Martin Kaste/NPR

On a big-sky plateau on the eastern slope of the Cascades, a 10-acre parcel of land has been trashed by illicit pot farmers. Abandoned equipment rusts and jugs of chemicals molder.

Marijuana legalization wasn’t supposed to look like this.

Five years into its experiment with legal, regulated cannabis, Washington state is finding that pot still attracts criminals.

Okanogan County Chief Criminal Deputy Steve Brown helped raid this farm last fall. What was striking, he says, is how brazen it was: located just off the road, within sight of neighbors. Before legalization, an operation like this would at least have been hidden up in the hills.

“Now it’s just out in the open, because everywhere you drive in the county you see the fencing, and everybody just assumes it must be just another legal grow going on.”

This particular grow was just a few hundred feet from licensed, state-regulated pot farms. Brown recalls how the growers tried to “blend in.”

“They acted like it was legal,” he says, and he says they even tried to fool the tax assessor, filing to pay agricultural property taxes at the rate for licensed pot growers.

After an investigation, it turned out the growers were part of a network with connections to California and Thailand, who had purchased six properties in the Okanogan area. They’d been growing pot illegally on five.

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Law enforcement officers uproot a large-scale illegal marijuana grow, one of several masquerading as legal operations in Okanogan County. Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve

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