On March 13, a group of six individuals—donned in believable law enforcement gear—furnished a fake search warrant and attempted to raid a Hughes County, Oklahoma medical cannabis grow operation in a brazen attack. The next day, other locations were hit including a medical cannabis business in Seminole County. Over 100 pounds of cannabis, machines, cash and cell phones were stolen. Law enforcement agents believe the rash of incidents are connected.
The names of the cannabis businesses weren’t released. Cannabis farms are already a target given cannabis’ value, but being forced to deal in cash due to the federal status of cannabis makes the industry a bit more dangerous.
Mark Woodward, spokesman of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) agrees. “I think that’s what makes them a target,” Woodward told High Times. “There are people who see an easy opportunity to get both cannabis, money and cellphones very quickly—especially from a vulnerable population.”
The group of bandits wore uniforms and masks, saying they worked for the “Oklahoma Marijuana Board” which doesn’t exist, and wore Oklahoma Highway Patrol uniforms. They demanded cash for a supposed compliance violation fine. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA), however, would be in charge of compliance had there been an actual compliance violation. OMMA officials do not demand for fines to be paid immediately at gunpoint.
Woodward suspects criminals are targeting immigrant cannabis workers, who often find work in the fields of cannabis farms or in other roles. As it turns out, COVID pushed thousands of Chinese immigrant workers into Oklahoma’s cannabis farm country. The “trimmigrant” phenomenon seen in other states took root in Oklahoma as well.
“These farms where there are oftentimes Chinese workers who don’t speak English—they won’t recognize traditional law enforcement,” Woodward said. “They’re not familiar with what Oklahoma law enforcement or what uniforms might look like or what a fraudulent warrant looks like compared to legitimate ones. And so these criminals count on that. That’s why they targeted these specific farms. They saw it as an easy opportunity to take advantage of these workers and hit the farm and take product. They also took some cell phones and cash.”
Woodward told The Oklahoman that one person has been taken into custody. Cash and cannabis is the draw for these criminals, he said.
District Attorney Paul Smith—representing both Hughes and Seminole counties—will lead the investigation. The District Attorney’s Drug and Violent Crime Task Force will join the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate cases of robbery, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
At one business, a worker immediately sent her attorney Donald Gies a frantic text and determined on speakerphone that the agents weren’t legitimate. One of the imposter agents wore a Darth Maul Halloween mask. At another farm, the thieves tied up the workers and stole 100 pounds of cannabis, their machines, cell phones and cash.
“There’s one in Hughes County that they hit over the weekend, then my client, who was number two, then they went down the street to [the third farm],” Gies told High Times. Gies’ client underwent a terrifying situation, but handled it in the best way possible at the time.
Gies told KOCO 5 that the bandits attempted to raid his clients farm, gave up, then raided a second farm down the road. At the second farm, the bandits tied up the workers at gunpoint, and took 100 pounds of cannabis and machines. He also told News 9 that their uniforms looked like Oklahoma Highway Patrol uniforms and wore masks.
We asked Gies how other businesses in Oklahoma can protect themselves. “I have a mental checklist,” he said. “First and foremost—keep a folder accessible near your door that contains your active OMMA license and OBN registration number. So if an officer is at your door, you can display that immediately. Secondly, ask for identification, badge numbers and what agency.”
Gies continued, “In our instance, I could hear my client do that on speakerphone, and they said ‘Oklahoma Marijuana Board’ which doesn’t exist. So we figured out they weren’t cops in fact. Then after that, ask to see the warrant. Before you let anyone into your space, the warrant has to include the subject’s name, address, the reason and it needs to be signed by a judge. I know that in an intense moment, but that will show you accuracy. Finally, I would call your attorney and put them on speakerphone. That’s actually what helped my client out the most. The criminal was fully aware that she had access to the outside world.”
Adria Berry, director of the OMMA, said there is a continued effort to increase the organization’s enforcement and tracking capabilities in a March 15 briefing.
“We encourage OMMA-licensed businesses to contact local law enforcement if they are suspicious of a person or group claiming to be OMMA investigators,” a representative from the OMMA told High Times. “Licensees can ask officers to see identification. If they are OMMA enforcement agents, they will be armed, and will be able to produce a badge and commission card that includes their photo, title, the OMMA emblem and State Department of Health logo. Typically, agents will be wearing a black polo with an OMMA enforcement emblem, as well.”