In Oklahoma, Outlaws Find the Wild West of Cannabis

By Tristan Jackson

Criminal outfits have flooded the country’s most free-slinging, medical market in Oklahoma – a state commonly referred to as the “wild west” of the cannabis industry. Thus, adding another obstacle for small growers. And is anyone truly surprised?

Mark Woodward, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) spokesman, dissected the cause of this recent uptick in crime when he said, “We didn’t really have these issues until this April. COVID affected a lot of people, the business licenses here are cheap, the land is cheap, it was just the perfect mix for these criminal operations to start popping up all over – buying up all of the land almost overnight.”

Oklahoma narcotics agents have raided three dozen grows – containing anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 plants, in the past few months, according to Woodward. This sudden surge of criminal activity is being noticed throughout the state’s medical marijuana industry.

“The biggest thing we have to worry about is making sure the weed we buy is legal and has legit paperwork to back it up,” said Kobe Adams, part-owner of the Native Rootz Dispensary in Caddo County. “A lot of these illegal grows are just shipping their product across state lines or using illegal paperwork to sell their weed, which drives the price down for the entire market. It really floods the market for growers.”

Legal cultivators statewide already encounter numerous challenges, such as strong competition from rival businesses, as well as cumbersome and costly regulation.  Jodie Klinglesmith, a Western Oklahoma craft grower, is annoyed by what black market operators are able to avoid.

“We legal cannabis growers are following every law and regulation that pops up,” Klinglesmith said. “Meanwhile, spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars just to make sure we all stay in compliance. For example, our seed-to-sale software, our tags, our license fees; and these are all of the things that the black market scoots around … The black market crooks are trucking product all over and selling it for cheap.”

Illegal operations are reportedly making as much as $4,000 per pound on shipments to New York, Woodward claimed. An average pound of weed in Oklahoma sells for $1,500.

The presence of the black market has also contributed to a further divide between legal players and OBN. “Every day is not a guarantee,” said Donald Gies, an Oklahoma City attorney. “You can play by the rules and still get raided.” In early August, OBN agents raided the farm of a grower represented by Gies, who claimed damages from the raid were in excess of $10 million. Agency authorities later admitted there had been a mistake, prompting Gies to warn, “If I’m the small grower, my biggest concern is not getting my plants stepped on.”

Woodward, however, is adamant his agency is supportive of the legal sector. “We really want the legal operators to know that we’re not on some kind of witch hunt to take them down,” he stressed. “We want to take down these very serious criminal organizations that harm the legal growers, and our consumers.”

Black market cannabis, meanwhile, will continue to hit growers in the pocketbook. Untested weed could also potentially infiltrate dispensaries statewide through forged paperwork. All of which has prompted Klinglesmith to simply conclude, “Black market weed just sucks.”