Kevin Jacoby | July 21, 2022

Disturbing Trend: Hemp Landlords Increasingly Subjected to Criminal Prosecution

In my last post regarding the rise of civil asset forfeiture in Oregon’s ongoing war on cannabis, I noted some commonalities in law enforcement’s approach to civil forfeiture of land allegedly used to grow illegal cannabis, namely that the landowner leased the property to a third party for the express purpose of growing legal hemp. Since that post, I have become aware of an additional and more disturbing trend: law enforcement is also charging the hemp landowners with crimes.

In the cases I am aware of in this genre, which arise primarily in southern and central Oregon counties, law enforcement and prosecutors are undeterred by the fact that the landowners took pains to protect themselves in their written leases, which generally prohibits the use of their land for anything other than lawful and permitted hemp production, often with the assistance of counsel. Many prosecutors describe the leases as mere paperwork meant to obscure a criminal conspiracy. In other cases, prosecutors are going to great lengths to not only charge landowners with crimes in connection with the conduct they allege their tenants engaged in, they are also seizing any and all of the landowners’ bank accounts, including those that have no connection whatsoever to the operations on the land that they allege are illegal grows. The Madras Pioneer wrote about one such case last month.

Is it illegal to lease land to a licensed hemp grower? As a matter of law, the answer is clearly no. But in practice, Oregon law enforcement appears to be putting the squeeze on hemp landowners by roping them into criminal culpability based on vague allegations of a conspiracy with their tenants. It is unclear how Oregon landowners can protect themselves in this seemingly escalating war on cannabis, but the purpose of these efforts is clear: local law enforcement, prosecutors, and other officials simply want to make their jurisdictions inhospitable to cannabis grows, regardless of legality.


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