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Black market cannabis investigations open door to labor trafficking

www.oklahoman.com July 19, 2021
Black market cannabis investigations open door to labor trafficking

As the cannabis black market in Oklahoma continues to expand, investigators throughout the state are not only uncovering fields, grow houses and truckloads of illegally grown marijuana, but they are commonly finding workers who could be caught in human trafficking networks.

 On July 1, about 130 miles south and east of Oklahoma City in Johnston County, a routine traffic stop revealed a potential network of illegal grows.

The 16 workers found at the location near Coleman may meet the definition of labor trafficking, contingent on an ongoing investigation, authorities said.

A bust 60 miles south of Oklahoma City in Grady County on June 23 produced more illegal marijuana and about 30 Chinese works who are thought to have been trafficked into the country, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

 On June 14, two hours east of the metro in Muskogee County, state authorities shut down an unlicensed, 40-acre farm with 24,000 plants cultivated by up to 30 Hispanic men who were waiting for a cut of the proceeds from the harvest.

The men appeared to be living in make-shift shanties without electricity or running water, according to investigators.

Indeed, labor trafficking is associated with many of Oklahoma’s illegal marijuana grow operations that continue to be the focus of investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies across the state, officials say.

The movement of unwilling workers and contraband is often tied to established drug and human trafficking networks, an Oklahoma narcotics agency spokesman says.

'All 77 counties':Authorities say Oklahoma now a source state for black market cannabis“Specifically related to the marijuana industry here in Oklahoma we’ve had some workers who haven’t been paid, living in deplorable conditions on some of these farms,” said Mark Woodward, spokesman of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBN).

“Again, they would meet the definition of labor trafficking, of human trafficking, but they won’t verbalize a complaint because of fear and desperation for that job.

”  'Human trafficking is a big issue'When someone is being forced to work by fear or coercion and is unable to control their own movement, the elements of human trafficking are present.


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