Medical Marijuana Farms In Oklahoma Tied To Sex Trafficking, Former GOP Gov. Argues Against Legalization
byNina Zdinjak, Benzinga Staff Writer
OG Article: here.
View our Fair Use Policy: here.
Oklahoma's Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBN) reported Friday that the agency’s investigation linked sex trafficking, prostitution, and drug trafficking to medical marijuana farms across the state. These illegal activities seem to be part of an Asian organized crime network, according to Fox 25.
"This organization provides criminal services for several medical marijuana farms in Oklahoma," OBN spokesman Mark Woodward said, reported KOCO Oklahoma City. "Our investigation has uncovered evidence of sex trafficking linked to the recruitment of undocumented Asian females for the purpose of engaging in prostitution that caters to managers and administrators of numerous marijuana farms around the state."
OBN’s investigation found four to five ounces of ketamine, discovered four houses in Oklahoma City that were used for prostitution, recovered around $20,000 to $30,000, and arrested two men, Jian Lin and Jianfa Zhou on drug charges.
"We knew, going back two years ago when we started seeing a lot of criminal organizations out of China, Mexico, Russia coming to Oklahoma, getting a license for the black market, that this was going to go far beyond just an illegal marijuana growing operation,” said Woodward who added "[With] organized crime, it's all about making money. Whether that's moving marijuana, moving people, moving weapons. It's far from over."
The Issue Of Illegal Marijuana
This is not the first time illegal operations related to marijuana farms have made headlines. At the end of December, the agency estimated that Oklahoma has become the largest source of illegal marijuana in the country.
“It’s not always clear what we should be looking for,” Logan County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Tillman said at the time.
In January, OBN's Woodward said the agency suspected there are around 2,000 potentially illegal medical marijuana licenses in the state that could have been obtained by fraud or are being used to cover illegal activities such as selling marijuana on the black market.
Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana and commercial cultivation in 2018. Shortly after, hundreds of growers flocked to the state, attracted by affordable land and licenses and loose regulations, according to The Wall Street Journal Market.
OBN director Donnie Anderson said the agency is still investigating. “Over the past two years, my agency has shut down over 800 medical marijuana farms tied to organized crime in Oklahoma, seized more than 600,000 pounds of illegal marijuana and made nearly 200 arrests," he said. "Many of the farms obtained their license by fraud, grow for the black markets around the United States and launder the illicit proceeds, worldwide. They also have been linked to homicides, labor trafficking, sex trafficking, and other crimes.”
Anyone with information about criminal drug or human trafficking activity is asked to call OBN at 1-800-522-8031.
Cannabis Proponents Raise Their Voices
Meanwhile, the conflict between cannabis advocates and proponents is heating up as a special election nears. On March 7th, Oklahomans will vote yes or no on State Question 820 – deciding if Oklahoma will legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21.
Frank Keating, GOP governor from 1995-2003, attorney, and chairman of Protect Our Kids NO 820 – an anti-cannabis organization wrote in the Tulsa Word on Saturday that “Marijuana is bad for Oklahoma; SQ 820 is worse.” He argues that ‘facts are clear’ that cannabis negatively affects families, communities and the state. He states that high THC levels cause 3 in 10 users to develop cannabis use disorder, which can permanently lower users’ IQ, and exacerbate psychoses and schizophrenia.
Keating claims that the problem with State Question 820 is not just pot, but the language in the proposal.
“The language in SQ 820 gives users of the federally banned, schedule one narcotic more rights than it does our children. On page 5, hidden in the details, is this gem: ‘A person shall not be denied custody of or visitation or parenting time with a minor child’ for using marijuana around a child. This means that a single mom cannot be supported by the courts when asking a noncustodial parent to abstain from pot during a visitation weekend,” he wrote.
Keating points out that the measure is created in a way that doesn’t protect youth unless they are already affected. He also compares the marijuana industry to Big Tobacco.
“Tobacco was originally framed as medicine, and we see the same thing here.”
Current Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) also does not support state-legal marijuana but rather believes the matter should be left to the federal government. “I believe the fed need to make a decision about marijuana,” he said per the Cannabis Business Times.
“There shouldn’t be a patchwork of states doing different things,” Stitt said. “We need to let the feds tell us if it’s legal or illegal. We shouldn’t let the states tell us that. We already have medical to meet the medical needs of Oklahomans that need this as a drug. We’re just now getting our arms around medical marijuana. … The recreational thing is a whole different story.”
Advocates Are Not Silent, Either
Recently, cannabis law firm, Vicente Sederberg issued a report on the economic impact of adult-use cannabis legalization, projecting that from 2004 to 2028, the state could benefit $821 million in combined medical and recreational taxes. Out of the total sum, the recreational market alone would account for $434 million. Under the proposed measure there would be a 15% state excise tax, standard state sales tax, and possibly local taxes.
Many Oklahomans are aware of these economic and social benefits of reform and are planning to vote yes, even if they are not cannabis users. Tina Jennings is one of them. The retired schoolteacher, mom and grandmother explained in The Oklahoman why she intends to vote yes on Oklahoma’s State Question 820.
“To me and many other parents, the legalization of recreational marijuana is not about drugs, it is about putting our state on sounder economic footing, making sensible laws that promote public safety, and building a more just state,” Jennings said.