Police & Fire

Maine’s congressional delegation again calls for crackdown on illegal marijuana operations

By Christopher Burns, Bangor Daily News Staff

Maine’s congressional delegation has renewed its calls for the U.S. Justice Department to crack down on illegal marijuana operations tied to China.

That comes after police in Maine have arrested eight people and seized more than 4,400 marijuana plants from such operations since the start of the year, according to the letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland dated Jan. 25, 2024.

A leaked federal government memo, first obtained by the conservative Daily Caller and published in August, estimates Maine has 270 large-scale illegal marijuana grows connected to organized crime groups in China. The memo’s authors note that the money may be used to further crime in the U.S. or be sent back to China. Maine’s congressional delegation noted that these operations generate an estimated $4.37 billion in revenue.

Similar operations have been found in California, Oklahoma and Oregon.

When that memo first emerged over the summer, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden sent a letter to Garland, calling on the Department of Justice to crack down on such illegal marijuana operations.

“We applaud Maine law enforcement for their continued efforts to investigate and shutdown these illegal operations, and we encourage the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal partners to provide additional support for these efforts. These illegal growing operations are detrimental to Maine businesses that comply with State laws, and we urge the DOJ to shut them down,” Collins, King, Pingree and Golden said in their letter.

The delegation noted that while these operations are “secretive,” they attract attention in the small Maine communities where they spring up. In many instances, complaints from neighbors and unusually high electric bills — one such operation in Carmel was being charged $6,900 a month for electricity — bring these operations to the attention of police, according to their letter.

This latest letter from Maine’s congressional delegation comes just as police have busted at least three large illegal marijuana operations in Somerset and Kennebec counties alone in the past month.

In Cornville, sheriff’s deputies seized 750 marijuana plants and 90 pounds of processed marijuana, all worth an estimated $200,000. Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster described the operation as a “very-well organized” during a county commissioners meeting on Jan. 17. In Belgrade, police arrested two people and seized 2,300 marijuana plants on Jan. 2, while in the town of China, three people were arrested and police seized 970 plants and many more seedlings on Dec. 30.

Those are just the latest large-scale illegal marijuana operations uncovered in the past year. They received greater scrutiny after the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office found an illegal marijuana operation in Carmel, where police seized 3,400 plants and 111 pounds of processed marijuana. Since then, other large illegal marijuana operations have been found in Dexter, Wilton, Machias, Orland and other communities.

It’s not yet clear whether the illegal marijuana grow uncovered in Cornville is connected with these other operations or to the crime network described in the federal memo.

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