Maine Delegation Demands Feds Shut Down Illegal Chinese Marijuana Grows

Maine Delegation Demands Feds Shut Down Illegal Chinese Marijuana Grows

From left: U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden and U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins. Credit: BDN Composite by Leela Stockley

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s congressional delegation issued a Thursday letter urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to shut down the 270 properties in Maine linked to illegal Chinese marijuana grows in a recently leaked government memo.

The letter comes a week after the Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet, first reported on a memo it said was distributed within the U.S. Border Patrol and described Chinese operations in the Pine Tree State that could produce more than $4 billion in revenue. The money is likely being funneled into other crimes or sent back to China, the memo said.

The July memo obtained by the news site said profits from the illicit sites are likely funneled into other criminal activities or sent back to China. Police have not discussed the memo in detail, but U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee’s office told the Bangor Daily News last week it was aware of such operations, as are state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

“These illegal growing operations are detrimental to Maine businesses that comply with State laws, and we urge the Department of Justice to shut them down,” the Maine delegation wrote in Thursday’s joint letter to the nation’s top law enforcement official.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District asked Garland to answer the following questions:

  • Who produced the memo, when was the information in it first obtained and what actions has the government taken in response to it?
  • What is the Justice Department doing to tackle illegal growing operations, including those run by foreign governments or entities, and to “swiftly” shut down any illegal marijuana growing sites in Maine?
  • How are the profits getting returned to the country of origin?
  • Is the Justice Department aware of the alleged Chinese ownership or any other foreign involvement in the growing operations?

While medical and recreational marijuana have been legal in Maine since 2009 and 2016, respectively, marijuana remains federally illegal and has long operated in a gray area in states.

Growing marijuana for personal use is allowed in Maine, but penalties exist for growing large amounts outside the established systems. In June, police arrested four men on felony cultivation charges after discovering 3,400 plants and 111 pounds of processed marijuana in Carmel.

A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said unregulated and illicit marijuana operations “are threats to the safety of communities, to the livelihood and financial wellbeing of licensed and compliant cannabis businesses, and to customers and patients in Maine who choose to use cannabis.”

The Democratic governor “stands ready to support and assist” federal officials as they prosecute and “dismantle illegal drug activities in Maine,” spokesperson Ben Goodman said.

The office of Attorney General Aaron Frey, a Democrat, works with the Office of Cannabis Policy on resolving “as many matters as possible” through regulation and with law enforcement to “curtail the illegal market,” spokesperson Danna Hayes said.

“We don’t have any comment on the specific sites mentioned [in the memo] and cannot confirm the existence of any investigation,” Hayes added.

The memo obtained by the Daily Caller said it draws from federal and public databases and was accompanied by a spreadsheet identifying the 270 Maine properties, though the news outlet did not include the spreadsheet or mention specific locations in the state.

By: Billy Kobin, Bangor Daily News