The shocking deaths of four people at a Kingfisher County marijuana farm should prompt Oklahoma policymakers to ask pointed questions about marijuana regulations going forward.
Last month, police began investigating the deaths of four foreign nationals who were killed “execution style” on a marijuana grow facility near Hennessey in northwestern Oklahoma. One other person was shot twice but survived. Florida authorities found and arrested Wu Chen, 45, in connection with the shootings.
The facility had an active license to grow marijuana for medical purposes, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. State narcotics agents, however, think the farm was operating illegally.
People are also reading…
There are other questions about this place and the conditions that allowed it to operate in suspicious ways.
Indeed, the farm in question appears at the confluence of lax regulations on marijuana and ownership of Oklahoma land by foreign interests.
Oklahoma voters in 2018 approved a state question that legalized medical marijuana. But the ballot measure has been seen as more open-ended than laws in other states, leading to a boom in growing operations and dispensaries that far outstrips Oklahoma’s demand for the drug. The state is home to more than 12,000 marijuana-related businesses.
The industry has grown so fast that the state enacted a two-year moratorium on new commercial licenses. The moratorium was enacted in response to law enforcement concerns that unchecked growth in the industry was leading to bad actors opening up shop and possibly using their facilities to hide other criminal activity.
The Hennessey farm seems to check several suspicious boxes. Reports indicate that the farm was constantly watched by armed guards. Inside, there were living quarters and indoor growing spaces. The shooting suspect and the victims are all Chinese nationals.
What’s unknown is whether illicit activities were being conducted at the farm or if the license was legally obtained. But it illustrates concerns that some people, including members of Congress, have voiced about foreign ownership of farmland in the state.
“We are alarmed by the pace at which Chinese companies have been purchasing U.S. agricultural land in recent years,” 3rd District Congressman Frank Lucas and two House colleagues wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The Oklahoma Legislature’s passage of the license moratorium included other reforms that should help regulate the marijuana industry. But with a March state question vote set on whether to legalize recreational marijuana, we’d encourage more work on this issue.
Lawmakers were caught flat-footed when medical marijuana was legalized in 2018. This is a mistake we shouldn’t make again. Licensing requirements need to be reviewed, and inspections of grow sites should be more frequent and thorough.
We cannot allow Oklahoma to become a “Wild West” for marijuana producers, lest we see more criminal activity in our communities. And certainly, we need to know who owns these places and whether they might represent national or criminal interests that threaten the security of Oklahomans.