Authored by Jana J. Pruet via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Hundreds of illegal Chinese-owned marijuana growing operations have been popping up across Maine over the past three years.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28, local law enforcement shut down an illegal marijuana grow that was being operated in a building located behind a licensed marijuana cultivation facility in Franklin County.
Officers from the Wilton Police Department were assisting investigators from the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy (OCP) during a routine follow-up inspection of a licensed facility in Wilton when they raided the illegal operation, authorities said in a press release posted on social media.
“It’s a place that has been on the radar,” State Rep. Mike Sobeleski (R) told The Epoch Times, adding that he had visited the facility previously. The Republican lawmaker said he had learned about the raid just minutes before Tuesday’s interview with The Epoch Times to discuss the illegal marijuana operations being run by Chinese nationals throughout the state.
Earlier this month, a man identifying himself as the property manager told the Maine Wire that the building was being used to grow marijuana and that operators paid about $30,000 per month in rent.
He also reportedly told the news outlet that the facility was being run by four Asian men who claimed they were from New York, California, Washington, and Massachusetts.
The property owner “has no connection to the internal operations of either the licensed or unlicensed marijuana cultivation facility,” according to authorities. The building is the former Bass Shoe Factory and is currently on the market for $6 million.
The facility had been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for possible ties to Asian transnational organized crime, the Maine Wire reported.
Marijuana is legal for recreational use for adults 21 and over in Maine. State law also allows adult residents to grow up to three mature plants and 12 immature plants for personal use.
OCP is responsible for the licensing, compliance, and general oversight of legalized cannabis for medical and adult use in the state.
In July, state law enforcement had identified 270 suspected illegal marijuana operations with an estimated revenue of $4.37 billion, according to an internal federal law enforcement document that was being circulated among Border Patrol agents. The Daily Caller originally reported the information after it obtained a copy of the memo.
In response to the reports, lawmakers in Maine sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting information about the alleged illegal Chinese marijuana growing operations.
“These illegal growing operations are detrimental to Maine businesses that comply with State laws, and we urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shut them down,” Republican Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, along with Democratic Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree wrote in their letter dated Aug. 24.
They posed a series of questions regarding the agency’s knowledge of the alleged Chinese connection to the illegal growing operations and what actions the DOJ is taking to shut them down across the state.
“What is the DOJ doing to address illegal operations, including illegal operations that are run by foreign governments or entities?” they asked.
They further inquired, “How are the profits from these illegal operations being returned to the country of origin?”
It is unclear whether the attorney general has responded to the August inquiry.
Ms. Collins’ office did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for more information.
Vague Enforcement Laws in Maine
Mr. Sobeleski said the state’s enforcement laws make it difficult for state and local authorities to shut down illegal operations until the feds get involved.
“They’re not sure who’s going to be the responsible [agency] to go in there based on the fact that this is a legal person on the property, and there are guidelines you have to go by on that,” he explained. “So, there’s no clarity in who enforces the law.“
Through an investigation, the Maine Wire located over 100 illegal marijuana facilities that are allegedly operated by Chinese nationals. Many of them are operating in homes that are often near schools and childcare facilities.
Joe Turcotte, a spokesperson for Mr. Sobeleski, said residents become frustrated when they file multiple complaints with local authorities who refuse to help.
Mr. Soboleski said he had visited many of the houses where the illegal operations occur. He said the operators have boarded up the windows and doors to cover up the illegal activity inside. Neighbors complain of the constant smell of marijuana coming from the houses and trash litters the lawns and roadways.
There is also a safety issue when home-cultivating operations illegally run 400 amps of electricity into buildings housing grow operations, posing a fire hazard.
“We’ve actually had houses burn from the heat and electricity from these grow operations,” Mr. Turcotte explained.
Another concern is that the houses are being used for other illegal activities.
“They could be used for trafficking other harder narcotics,” Mr. Soboleski said, adding that illegal immigrants could also be staying in the homes.
The Maine Wire reported that law enforcement has raided only two other properties in the state.
A raid in the town of Carmel led to the seizure of over 3,000 marijuana plants. Four Chinese men were arrested in connection with that operation and are facing felony charges.
Nearly 1,000 plants were seized in another raid in Dexter. However, no arrests were made.
Mr. Soboleski recently sponsored legislation that would provide state and local law enforcement agencies with the authority to enforce laws against illegal marijuana operations.
His bill, known as “An Act to Provide Investigative Authority to the Maine State Police, Sheriffs, and Local Police Regarding Maine’s Recreational Cannabis Laws and Ordinances to Ensure Proper Enforcement,” was “shut down” by the legislative council earlier this month, he said.
“We have the mechanisms to take these [illegal marijuana operations] out, but it’s a matter of the political will to do it,” Mr. Turcotte said.
A National Problem
Illegal marijuana grows are being operated in numerous states across the country.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) seized more than 72,000 pounds of illegal marijuana in Wagoner County and another 250 pounds in Lincoln County on Nov. 9.
“Our state has been overrun with criminals who are trafficking drugs in our local communities and throughout the country,” Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a press release on Nov. 14. “I will not tolerate this serious threat to public safety. I am proud of the work of the Organized Crime Task Force and our law enforcement partners for their efforts to eliminate this blight on our communities.”
The Wagoner County seizure was among the largest in state history.
A week later, OCTF, along with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, served search warrants on six medical marijuana grow operations in Pottawatomie County, where they seized 77,236 untraceable and untagged plants, nearly 2,000 pounds of untraceable marijuana, and several firearms, according to a separate press release Nov. 17.
“We are sending a clear message to Mexican drug cartels, Chinese crime syndicates, and all others who are endangering public safety through these heinous operations,” Mr. Drummond said in a statement. “And that message is to get the hell out of Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 2018. Earlier this year, voters rejected a state initiative to allow for the recreational use of the drug.
In California, the Unified Cannibas Enforcement Taskforce (UCETF) seized more than $101 million in illegal marijuana during the third quarter of 2023, the agency announced in October.
“Many of these illegal cannabis operations are linked to organized crime, and in addition to threatening the environment and communities, the products [from] these operations pose a direct threat to consumer health and the stability of the legal cannabis market.”
Since the task force’s formation in 2022 through the third quarter of 2023, UCETF served more than 200 search warrants and seized nearly $300 million in unlicensed marijuana.