It has been an ongoing issue for far too long in OR
(MEDFORD, Ore.) — A day after Alejandra, which is not her real name, arrived for a job harvesting marijuana at a farm near Medford, Oregon, she says things took a harrowing turn when armed guards prevented workers from leaving.
“Holding a gun, one of them said, ‘No one goes out. No one goes out until you’re done trimming the pot. No one goes out and no one comes in,’” the undocumented mother of three told ABC News.
“You feel horrible. You feel humiliated, trampled on. You feel like dying,” Alejandra said.
Pot was legalized for recreational use in Oregon in 2015. The goal was to generate tax revenue for the state while curbing the black market. But years later, foreign drug cartels have taken advantage of the limited oversight by running illegal farms on the backs of exploited migrant workers, officials told ABC News.
On these unlicensed farms in southern Oregon, estimated to be in the thousands, workers like Alejandra are often forced to live and work in deplorable conditions as they tend to the crops.
“We were prisoners, because we couldn’t go out. We worked very long hours, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning. They were constantly pushing us to work faster, to trim the pot,” Alejandra said.
The work was supposed to take 15 days, but ended up lasting an entire month, Alejandra said. “I feared for my life, because [the guards] would act really crazy. I kept thinking about my kids, my mother. Wishing I could see them again. That’s all I could think about.”
Over the past year, ABC News has been tracking the underbelly of marijuana legalization in southern Oregon, where federal, state and local law enforcement are working together to combat the growing problem of “narco slavery.” The three-part investigation, “THC: The Human Cost,” is airing this week on “ABC News Live.”
Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Hammer leads the initiative to root out Oregon’s illegal pot farms for Homeland Security Investigations’ Pacific Northwest Office. Last August, the news of a dying man left at a gas station set off alarm bells for Hammer and his team.
“We were able to track that [person] back as a worker on one of the farms,” Hammer said.
“We’re not trying to look at it as, ‘Oh, this is just another marijuana operation.’ We’re really trying to focus on the fact that this is the exploitation of people. This is the destruction of the environment through illegal pesticides,” Hammer said.