Chinese nationals are partnering with Chinese organized crime groups to buy land and businesses in states like Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida. In some cases, the land is being used to grow medical marijuana. In others, the land is being purchased on the perimeter of critical national infrastructure and military bases.
Senator James Lankford (R-OK) wants better oversight of foreign purchases of agricultural land. He also wishes to limit access to U.S. farmland, especially in his home state, where such purchases are growing exponentially. In a bi-partisan bill, Lankford and Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) co-sponsored a bill called the Security and Oversight of International Landholdings (SOIL) Act. Lankford hopes "to provide oversight and transparency of purchases of U.S. agricultural land that threaten national security," according to his March 30 press release. Lankford originally introduced the bill in 2022.
Bennet says it is time to stop allowing foreign nationals access to American farmland and precious resources. "For too long, Washington has allowed foreign adversaries like China and Russia to buy up American farmland and its precious water resources while our family farmers and economies became collateral damage. For the sake of American growers, farmers, and ranchers, we need to modernize and strengthen our tools to evaluate the risk of these foreign purchases on our supply chains and our national security," Bennet stated in the press release.
Lankford warned of the Chinese's exponential growth in land purchases on the Senate floor on March 28. In 2020, the Chinese owned 194,179 acres in the U.S. In 2021, the Chinese bought 383,935 acres, almost doubling their ownership of American land. Lankford wants to close federal loopholes that permit foreign entities to get federal agriculture subsidies here in the U.S. For example, right now, if China were to invest in a land holding of 10 acres or less, disclosure is not required. That could be a problem if those 10 acres happen to surround critical American infrastructure.
Lankford says his bill will also address the growing national security threat from foreign entities who buy land on the outskirts of American military bases. In addition, he sees increased interest in the purchase of land that surrounds critical infrastructure and telecom. The SOIL Act would require a "mandatory review of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) for agricultural land." Lankford believes Americans should know much more about "why, where, how much, and what's the purpose of" these land purchases by foreign entities, especially from countries like China.
Lankford's recommended review would fall into two categories. One, he would look at the countries looking to buy land, and two, he wants to investigate non-market economies that wish to purchase U.S. land. Lankford explains the "non-market economy" is "an economy that is run by the government, not by private business. Again China would fall squarely into this as a communist nation. You cannot run an investment business, you cannot run, especially a foreign entity, outside of China without it running through the Communist Party in China. So they're a non-market economy."
Lankford says Chinese criminal organizations have moved into his state "in mass numbers." Lankford continued, "The year after marijuana was legalized in my state for 'medical purposes,' we had more land sales to foreign entities in Oklahoma than any other state in America as Chinese criminal organizations and Mexican cartels immediately moved in to be able to set up shop in distribution nationwide."
Ten years ago, "321,000 acres in Oklahoma were owned by a foreign entity," according to Lankford. Now he says foreign entities own 1.67 million acres. The growth of the medical marijuana industry in Oklahoma is attracting foreign criminal organizations bringing "human trafficking, forced labor, and money laundering" to the state. Oklahoma voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 2018.
Oklahoma Being Negatively Transformed by Marijuana
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD) has identified about 2000 fraudulent medical marijuana licenses in Oklahoma. Oklahoma, which overwhelmingly rejected legalizing recreational marijuana in March, has over 7,000 licensed marijuana grows. OBNDD Spokesman, Mark Woodward, says that "those working at illegal cultivation sites are often foreign nationals" associated with violent criminal organizations.
Growing operations and dispensaries have grown so fast that the governor signed a measure that set a two-year moratorium on new medical marijuana grower, dispensary, and processor licenses in the state. The moratorium began on August 1, 2022, and ends in August 2024. Oklahoma has more than 12,000 marijuana-related businesses.
Notably, Lankford believes his state voted against legalizing recreational marijuana partly because voters see that "childhood use of marijuana has increased in the past five years. In 2022, nationally, 8 percent of 8th graders, 20 percent of 10th graders, and 31 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the past 12 months." A 2022 study shows "long-term THC use has been associated with the development of psychosis and significant neuropsychiatric dysfunction. Cannabis use in childhood is particularly detrimental as it is a period of crucial brain development and impairs acute neuropsychological functioning."
Marijuana also attracts criminal cartels, according to Lankford. In November, four people were killed "execution style" at a Kingfisher County marijuana farm in northwestern Oklahoma. Wu Chen, age 45, was connected with the shootings and was later arrested in Florida on November 22, 2022. Chen held 5 people hostage and eventually executed 4 of them.
According to meaww.com, Assistant District Attorney Austin Murrey's affidavit on the executions stated, "Eyewitnesses to the murders testified that (Wu) demanded $300,000 be handed over to him by other employees of the marijuana operation, as a return of a portion of his 'investment' in the enterprise," All of those targeted by Chen were Chinese nationals. Quirong Lin, Chen He Chun, Chen He Qiang, and Fang Hui Lee were dead when the authorities arrived. A fifth person, Yi Fei Lin, was shot twice but survived.
Chinese Proposal for Agricultural Plant Near North Dakota Air Force Base Shot Down
On January 27, Andrew Hunter, an assistant secretary of the Department of the Air Force, sent a letter to North Dakota Senator John Hoeven referencing a proposal from Fufeng Group to build a large corn milling processing plant 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Hunter stated the Department "unambiguously concluded" the proposed project "presents a significant threat to national security with both near-and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area." The plans were ultimately dropped.
The incident in North Dakota is part of why the Treasury Department's Office of Investment Security is looking to propose a rule change requiring foreign citizens and companies to get "U.S. government approval to buy property within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of eight military bases."
Individual states are also looking at measures to curtail foreign purchases of agricultural land. In Texas, Senate Bill 147 "would ban the purchase of "real property" by citizens from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea, even if they are in the country legally on certain visas." The bill is currently awaiting review by the Texas House of Representatives. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says he will sign it if it comes to his desk.