Cannabis cultivator LaRue Bratcher is free on a $400,000 bond paid for by the organizational arm of Oklahoma City’s Black Lives Matter protest movement, which says he is being treated unfairly. Bratcher had been in jail since May of last year after shooting a white intruder named Daniel Hardwick, whom Bratcher said was attempting to break into his property for a second time.
A black 34-year-old Army veteran, Bratcher’s time outside of custody lasts only until his trial begins in October. He was not arrested and charged with first-degree murder until a week after the shooting once prosecutors had reviewed the case and learned Bratcher’s cannabis licensing was expired.
For prosecutors, Bratcher is not shielded by Oklahoma’s stand-your-ground laws if he was simultaneously manufacturing a controlled substance without a license. Employees at Oklahoma cannabis dispensaries with active licenses have shot and killed armed intruders on two other occasions in recent months, and no charges have been filed in those cases.
I wrote earlier this month that while Bratcher has one of the best defense attorneys in the state, his case faces major hurdles. Prosecutors plan to show that Bratcher’s cultivation license had been expired for six months, he had no compliance certificate from Oklahoma City, and he had no additionally required cannabis license from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. They’ll also point to a previous Texas weed conviction that followed a 2019 traffic stop.
Bratcher and his wife had been operating legally in Oklahoma City during the first year after voters approved medical marijuana in the state. Vicky Bratcher says the couple was contending with tens of thousands of dollars in expensive facility upgrades needed for their cultivation license to be renewed. Marijuana Business Daily published a profile of the case today:
“Bratcher’s attorney, Clay Curtis, said he believes Bratcher’s race and his work with cannabis are why the district attorney filed criminal charges. … ‘I think the truth is that … the (district attorneys) are not happy about these changes in marijuana laws,’ Curtis said. ‘Marijuana is big business for law enforcement: Civil asset forfeiture, not to mention the arrests and prosecutions and costs and fees they collect. That’s a big source of revenue for them. Not only have we taken that away, but we have empowered people they have treated hostilely for years and years.’”
ALSO Oklahoma City’s KFOR reports that dispensaries in Edmond are looking for ways to better protect their stores following recent burglaries. Citing armed robberies here and in Oregon, The Fresh Toast asks if budtenders should be allowed to carry guns. Forbes says that budtenders are already carrying them.
And the weed busts continue
State drug enforcers and local authorities are not relenting on a campaign to push black-market cannabis operators out of Oklahoma. Lawmakers, rural residents, and the industry itself have variously praised the ongoing raids and seizures.
Constituents cite a too-rapid influx of new cannabis businesses that smaller communities are unable to sufficiently control and regulate. Cannabis businesses cite the inherent unfairness of operators who play by the rules having to compete with those who don’t.
Undoubtedly, the recent busts and raids also confront rising fears in the state that outside and international business interests and criminal organizations are exploiting the state’s lax cannabis laws and cheap land prices at the expense of Oklahomans.
June 17 Several state and local agencies along with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics seized 27,000 plants in the small south-central Oklahoma town of Gene Autry. An area sheriff says the raid never would have happened if the property owners had paid licensing fees they owed.
June 15 A team of local law enforcers led by the district attorney for Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties raided a 10-acre property with dozens of grow houses and what officials estimated was $17 million worth of cannabis.
June 14 A forty-acre property with some 24,000 plants was raided by the state bureau of narcotics in Muskogee County. A spokesman told the media that the operators had no licensing at all and that the workers were suspected of being trafficking victims.
June 9 Local officials and state drug enforcers seized 10,000 plants and some 100 pounds of processed cannabis in southeast Oklahoma’s Haskell County. A local sheriff told the media: “When you start exporting it [over state lines] we’re going to eradicate your marijuana and hopefully vacate you from your properties.”
June 8 Local authorities in the small town of Walters, Oklahoma, and with help from the state bureau of narcotics served a search warrant and seized 700 plants plus 400 pounds of product they say were grown without a license.
June 1 Again joined by the state bureau of narcotics, local authorities in northwest Oklahoma’s Major County took and destroyed more than 4,000 plants after determining that the growers were operating without a license.
Local govs want more action
In the meantime, local governments are responding to resident complaints and headlines about the raids and seizures and taking their own action where they see the state’s efforts falling short. These are just some of the headlines that have turned up in my Google Alerts since the beginning of the year with similar themes:
The city of Shawnee earlier this month issued a temporary halt to all new local permits for cannabis businesses. Officials say a saturation and density of operators in Shawnee “imposes a risk to the health and safety of its citizens.”
Also this month, Pottawatomie County commissioners approved $80,000 for a special program to investigate illegal cannabis operators. The local district attorney, Allan Grubb, told officials it was a pilot program and that neighboring Lincoln County had committed the same amount.
A commissioner in Cleveland County containing Moore and Norman said he wanted the state legislature to investigate whether cannabis-production facilities were a magnet for organized criminal activity.
A vice mayor from south-central Oklahoma’s Pauls Valley says she doesn’t want grow facilities in the town at all.
More from Oklahoma and beyond
State Sen Bill Coleman (R-Ponca City) writes in an op-ed for the Pawhuska Journal-Capital that new cannabis laws passed during the most recent legislative session will enable the state to better tackle black-market cannabis. “There has been tremendous foreign interest in this young but thriving industry.”
The Cookies dispensary chain based in Miami and with locations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa tried to host a hip-hop show to promote the brand here. It reportedly turned into a parking-lot brawl and indiscriminate gunfire.
The Tulsa World reports that weed taxes are booming in Oklahoma. Recent legislation that would beef up the ability of state tax enforcers to audit and investigate cannabis businesses that are dodging payments could fill state-and-local coffers even further.
The Nirvana cannabis brand familiar to Tulsa residents for its dispensaries and billboards has been rapidly expanding into other areas of the industry. It announced a new line of cannabis-infused beverages earlier this month.
Here’s a good roundup from stellar Oklahoman reporter Carmen Forman of cannabis bills passed during the most recent legislative session.
Here’s a similarly good roundup of cannabis bills from the similarly good local news and policy site NonDoc Media.
The real-estate giant Power REIT based in New York bought nine acres in Craig County at the state line with Kansas where the company is planning a $2.65 million cannabis operation. It wants to bankroll the renovation of 40,000 square feet of greenhouse space and use 100,000 more square feet of fenced, outdoor growing space. Oklahoma drug enforcers should probably poke around to make sure liberal Yankees aren’t also trying to subdue Oklahoma through its wild-west weed laws.
A federal judge upheld Oklahoma’s residency laws designed to protect the state’s still-fledgling cannabis entrepreneurs from bigger, out-of-state chains with more resources.
The cannabis brand of comedy legend Jim Belushi is coming to Oklahoma.
Critics in California are worried that recent raids there are unfairly targeting Asian cultivators and could amount to an “unequal enforcement of [the state’s] complex cannabis laws.”
Republicans in Connecticut say the campaign there to pass legislation legalizing adult-use “has the stench of corruption” and want an investigation.
Police in the UK thought that evidence of massive amounts of stolen electricity would lead them to an illegal cannabis grow. Instead, they found people mining energy-intensive Bitcoin.
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