Maine law enforcement is cracking down on illicit grow sites, months after lawmakers from the state urged action amid rumors of Chinese nationals operating hundreds of illegal farms in rural parts of the state.
The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office announced that deputies raided an illegal grow site in China, Maine, on Dec. 30. China is the name of a small town about an hour and a half northeast of Portland.
The raid yielded about 1,000 seized plants and the arrest of three individuals that authorities claim illegally immigrated from China, the nation.
Meanwhile, the Maine State Police announced their own raid on Jan. 2, where more than 2,700 cannabis plants were found between two homes in a town just west of China.
“In response to community complaints, the Maine State Police executed two search warrants at a residence on Guptill Road and a residence at Point Road in the town of Belgrade,” said the press release, which noted that the investigation was assisted by Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, The Kennebec Sheriff’s Office, the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy (OCP), as well as the U.S. DEA and FBI.
The arrests seem to confirm claims, from last summer, about illicit grows in rural Maine operated by Chinese nationals. Conservative news site Daily Caller reported that it had obtained a leaked memo from the U.S. Border Patrol that indicated that as many as 270 properties in Maine were used as illicit grow operations. The report did not disclose any further details, nor was the leaked memo reproduced.
Following that report, the Maine Wire identified hundreds of properties that it claimed showed evidence of illegal grow sites.
Shortly after those reports, Maine’s delegation to the U.S. legislature (two senators and two representatives) called on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate. Since then, there has not been any official response from the Department of Justice. Top House Republicans recently requested a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security and DEA by Jan. 25, according to Daily Wire.
Bill to eliminate cannabis-related offenses killed
Nevertheless, rising concerns apparently helped derail a legislative attempt to eliminate cannabis-related offenses from Maine’s criminal code.
Maine’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety shut down LD 1789 during a Jan. 10 hearing with an 8-2 vote. The bill would have called for the expungement of all past cannabis or marijuana-related offenses since the plant was originally outlawed in the early 1900s, while also eliminating every cannabis-related provision from Maine’s criminal code.
The bill already faced scrutiny over the feasibility of the judicial branch being able to actually scour almost 100 years of convictions to purge all cannabis-related convictions, as well as a possible conflict with the state constitution that stipulates that only the governor has the power to pardon crimes.
Sen. Joseph Baldacci, who sponsored the bill, argued that it would allow for more fairness in enforcement.
“It’s been almost 10 years since the state of Maine legalized marijuana for recreational use, however it is still illegal to possess 2.5 oz. or more of cannabis,” said Baldacci during the committee hearing, while noting the racial disparities in enforcement. “Black people in Maine are four times more likely to be convicted for marijuana than white people, even though their rates of usage is the same. Removing cannabis possession from the criminal code would provide some degree of fairness for people who are punished for something that is ostensibly now legal.”
The state’s Office of Cannabis Policy testified against the bill based on public safety concerns.
“This goes further than any other state has gone before. We have serious concerns, especially in light of the recent reporting around cannabis grows being operated by Chinese nationals in this state illegally,” said Gabi Pierce, OCP policy director.
Rep. David Boyer, who is not a member of the committee, spoke in support of the bill. He said he was skeptical that eliminating cannabis from the state’s criminal code would impact the proliferation of illicit grows.
“We have these illegal grows now. By and large they aren’t being prosecuted. When it comes to those, call them undocumented grows, it’s more of a political will issue,” he said. “That said, we can still remove cannabis from the criminal code and still keep it on the books that it’s illegal to sell without a license. Bootlegging is still illegal.”