Editor’s note: This is the second story in a two-part series about illegal marijuana grow operations occurring across rural Oklahoma. The series explores operation details, legislation to address the issue and more.
State legislators aim to address illegal marijuana grow operations during the upcoming legislative session.
The operations have been increasing in rural areas throughout Oklahoma since September 2020, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. Illegal groups have been coming to the state because of Oklahoma’s cheap land prices and licensing, as well as loose marijuana regulations, OBN spokesperson Mark Woodward said.
While House Bill 1497 has passed the House, it has not been considered in the Senate. If signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, the bill would prohibit property ownership by non-U.S. citizens from countries that do not allow U.S. people to own property in their country.
It will be looked at when the House and the Senate return to session in February. Rep. Brian Hill said if HB 1497 passes, it will give the Attorney General’s Office more power addressing illegal uses of land.
Without it, there’s essentially nothing law enforcement can do, he said.
“The question is, ‘Where’s the law being broken?’” Hill said.
Bill 2272, which was signed into law, requires medical marijuana businesses to submit a foreign financial interest disclosure attestation form. The form is meant to confirm or deny the existence of foreign financial interests in the business.
Investigations have indicated illegal grow operations are being shipped out of state for nefarious purposes.
“Our main concern has to always be illegal actions are not being overlooked,” Hill said.
The representative said they are looking to ensure family farms are not in danger of being turned into illegal operations.
“We need to make sure a foreign entity doesn’t own more of our land than we do as Oklahomans,” Hill said.
No current illegal grow investigations in Canadian County
While Hill is aware of groups purchasing land with cash in surrounding areas, he could not confirm if any were for illegal purposes in Mustang. Mustang Police Chief Rob Groseclose also said he was unaware of reports like this in the city.
Although on the county side, Canadian County Sheriff Chris West said he has informally heard about Chinese groups buying land. There are no current investigations in the county.
Local realtors concerned about mass land purchases
Realtors, like Paulette Statler, are also answering phone calls from concerned residents about what is going on with major land purchases in western Oklahoma. She spoke with people near Hinton and in Cordell, where purchases were happening.
Residents told her groups of three to six Chinese people arrived on their farmland unsolicited with duffle bags of cash.
Statler said much of the inquired land already has steel building type structures on it. The land ranges from 1 acre to unlimited.
“What happens when all our outlying land is sold?” Statler asked.
While many residents have turned to Statler for answers, she said realtors are limited with what they can do.
“We specialize in finding your real estate needs or selling your real estate needs, but as far as all this appropriation of land — my first question is, ‘How is that property being conveyed?’” Statler said.
One buyer has sparked the realtor’s interest. Statler has worked with AVRM-5, an Arizona buyer, several times.
Their broker, Mainstreet Renewal is out of Texas, and their title company, BCHH, is in Pennsylvania. They have offered to purchase a property in cash without viewing it.
“I still don’t know to this day who AVRM-5 is,” she said.
AVRM-5 is buying more than 40 homes in the Oklahoma City area each month, Mainstreet Renewal said.
“This is historic,” Statler said. “It seems like it ramps up every week.”
Statler said purchases flew off the charts when the pandemic hit Oklahoma in March 2020. There have been $10,000 to $20,000 offers over listing prices and buyers are waving inspections.
Oklahoma and Iowa are the only states in the nation who abstract.
There are also many pending properties across the state. However, the name of the buyer cannot be seen until they have closed.
Oklahoma is not the only state being significantly affected by out-of-state buyers. California and others are also seeing properties bought left and right.
Typically, the market fluctuates every two years or so from buyers to sellers, Statler said.
“This is alarming,” she said.
Statler said she hopes legislators, law enforcement officials and citizens are aware of the situations occurring across the state.
“When it comes from many, you have to listen,” she said.
People are advised to report anything concerning to their local law enforcement agency.
“When you don’t know people’s intentions, it leads to discomfort,” Statler said.