WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah – Lawmakers in Washington are getting ready to take on immigration reform. It's a bill that's undergone several changes in the past few months. Now one amendment by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch looks to address the connection between immigration and marijuana grows.
The amendment would establish an aggravated penalty for someone growing marijuana on public, federal land and mandate that any sentence be served after other sentences. It's a move that Hatch says is necessary to curb the growing that takes place every year in rural Southern Utah.
"In my home state of Utah, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement have seized more than 110,000 marijuana plants this past year," Hatch says in a news release. "These sites are typically far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow potent marijuana."
Utah DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Frank Smith says the climate in Southern Utah that makes it a hot spot for illegal grows. Smith hopes Hatch's amendment will deter immigrants from making the move.
"We're just trying to make it where it's difficult to grow marijuana here," says Smith. "In the time where it seems like, the status quo is, 'Let's just legalize it and it'll go away,' Senator Hatch has stepped up and given us additional tools."
Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher says it's a step in the right direction, but believes it won't deter immigrants with a mind for marijuana growing from entering the states. Pulsipher says he believes a more comprehensive approach would solve the bigger problem.
"I think our communities need a lot of these people. But there's that other portion of it, the criminal element that's coming in," says Pulsipher. "That's involved in the gangs and the drugs, and the marijuana grows, that's part of the element that we don't want in our communities."
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Hatch's amendments to the federal immigration reform Monday afternoon. An overall vote is expected sometime this week.