A newly introduced bill seeks to ban foreign ownership of land in Oklahoma in an attempt to curb illegal cannabis cultivation. House Bill 3125 was introduced to the Oklahoma House of Representatives earlier this month, and most recently on Feb. 19 it was recommended to the full Appropriations and Budget Natural Resources Subcommittee.
HB-3125 is sponsored by Rep. Danny Williams, who represents District 28 in Oklahoma. Recently he told Fox25 that foreign land ownership is one of the biggest problems in his area. “A lot of people when they come in, they’re involved in illegal activity and foreign ownership,” Williams said. “Rules and laws don’t matter to them. It’s profit.”
According to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN), more than 250 people have been arrested in connection to illegal cannabis cultivation since 2021. The issue began to escalate after the pandemic began.
In an interview with OBN representative Mark Woodward in September 2023, he explained the nationalities of many of the arrested individuals. “Many of them were Chinese,” said Woodward. “Now some were tied to organized crime out of Mexico, the cartels, we’ve certainly busted a lot of those farms. We’ve raided farms linked to Serbian, Armenian, and Russian. But one of the biggest criminal organizations and concerns are those that are tied back to Chinese organized crime, and the Chinese Communist Party.”
HB-3125 would task the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF) to landowners. “The benefit is: I believe we’re all going to be safer,” said Williams about the bill. “We’re really looking at an in-depth look at who owns the property, and how it’s owned. Really hold people accountable to make sure it’s owned by the right people, which are Oklahomans and U.S. citizens.”
Fox25 obtained a statement from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau (OKFB), which shared its interest in finding a solution to the land ownership problem. “Oklahoma Farm Bureau members have a vested interest in land ownership, and while Oklahoma has some of the strongest land ownership laws in the United States, loopholes can be found in any law,” the organization said. “OKFB is assessing current proposals and working with key stakeholders to find a responsible solution for our state’s family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.”
In July 2022, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt spoke about the state being threatened by the Chinese “Communist Party.” “We pulled the stats, and Oklahoma was the Number 1 (in) land purchases by the communists or foreign nationals (in 2020) than any other state, it’s like 380,000 acres,” said Stitt. “That’s a red flag for anybody.” A report from The Lawton Constitution shared that between 2015 and 2021, foreign land ownership increased by 300%.
Nebraska is the only other state that surpassed that growth in the same time period. According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau, 1.5% of the state’s private land is foreign-owned (73% is owned by Canadian investors, while 36% belongs to Italian investors.)
The Oklahoma constitution prohibits foreign land ownership, but a loophole was created by a 1981 court case that allowed a Canadian investment company to purchase land in Oklahoma under the condition that it conducts qualified business. The Lawton Constitution adds that exceptions were also made for foreign-based companies to establish swine and poultry businesses in Oklahoma in the 1970s.
The Agriculture Foreign Investments Disclosure Act of 1978 (AFIDA) requires foreign companies to report their purchase or land leases, but there isn’t enough enforcement to ensure that landowners are self-reporting. USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Gloria Montaño Greene told The Lawton Constitution last September that the AFIDA reporting system is all paper-based, and the process hasn’t been updated since it was established. “Companies print out legal descriptions from their internal electronic land management systems and mail their hard copy AFIDA filings in bankers’ boxes to USDA,” Greene said. “We currently have no way to electronically identify the geographic location of AFIDA filings more specifically than at the county level.”
Two other bills were recently introduced in the Oklahoman legislature as well, which aim to add metering requirements for water use. “The surface water is basically owned or regulated by the state,” said Sen. Brent Howard about Senate Bill 1341. “Groundwater is owned by the individuals, but it is subject to regulation by the state. We’re trying to get some teeth behind that, some coordination between those two.”
Another bill, Senate Bill 1352, would specifically require cannabis cultivators to pay $1.25 for every 1,000 gallons of water used, no matter if it comes from a private well or public water. “A typical marijuana plant requires six gallons of water a day,” Sen. David Bullard said. “We want to make sure that we’re metering that and using those funds to be able to store and capture more of that water.”
Some legislators such as Sen. Shane Jett voted against SB-1352, claiming that it would negatively affect law-abiding businesses. “Individuals who are stealing water from farms, by using fire hoses and siphoning off under cover of darkness—those people are not going to be paying these fees,” said Jett. “The ones who are the moms and pops who are already struggling to stay open after sinking their life funds because they thought this was the new economic boom coming for Oklahoma.”