Marijuana supression fund clipped


Oregon authorities seized a record number of marijuana plants last year, but now face a sharp drop in a federal grant used to combat Mexican drug gangs and other public safety problems.

Police seized 262,013 marijuana plants in Oregon last year and caught scores of people tending the plants, especially in southwest Oregon and the McMinnville area.

The drug cartels have been identified as the state's leading organized crime threat.

A 67 percent drop in the Edward rne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant comes as planting season nears. Mexican drug gangs also are taking bigger roles in shipping methamphetamine through southwest Oregon.

It also helped fund help for sexual assault victims in Jackson County and a five-county drug enforcement corps in southern Oregon.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called the program a "vital source of funding for drug eradication efforts in Oregon" and said he's trying to rectify the cuts, mandated in a budget bill Congress passed in December.

The rne grant was cut to $170 million this year. Oregon will get $1.2 million, down from $3.4 million last year.

Additionally, President Bush is proposing a 73 percent cut in government payments meant to offset logging declines.

Douglas County Sheriff Jim Burge estimates the proposed reduction in timber payments would cut his $15 million budget in half.

He was planning for that possibility when he learned that rne grant reductions would cut $67,000 out of the Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team.

He said the combined hits would require him to move three of four full-time employees off the drug team to patrol duties.

"That'll leave two Roseburg detectives and one Oregon State Police detective up there to combat these Mexican drug cartels," Burge said.

The hills of Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Coos and Curry counties are known for producing high-grade marijuana.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations turned parts of the region into a massive garden last year.

They accounted for 92 percent of all marijuana seizures statewide, said Ron Nelson, a special agent with the Oregon Department of Justice.

Sgt. Ken Selig of the Josephine County Sheriff's Office said the rne grant cuts will all but kill the county's interagency narcotics team.

"If our funding goes down to a third," he said, "we'll do what we can to maintain a drug enforcement presence, and that may be only one officer in Josephine County."

In Ashland, the grant covers half the budget for the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team. The nonprofit responds to a victim about once every four days, said Susan Moen, the nonprofit's executive director.

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