Why the feds are trying to seize Maine’s illegal marijuana grow houses

By Marie Weidmayer, Bangor Daily News Staff

The federal government wants to seize four Maine houses that were recently raided by police for allegedly operating illegal marijuana grows

Four lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor, the first step for the federal government to be awarded ownership of the properties by civil forfeiture.

It’s the latest step in a surge in police activity since the beginning of the year that has seen local and state law enforcement execute warrants to shut down more than 40 properties alleged to be housing illegal marijuana grows throughout the state.

Here’s what happens next with these properties, and why the federal government is suddenly involved. 

Why are the feds seizing properties in Maine?

Maine law prohibits the state from pursuing forfeiture of property connected to adult use of marijuana in specific circumstances. However, federal law does not have the same provision. The U.S. attorney must still prove in court there is a “preponderance of evidence” the property is linked to criminal activity.

The four houses, with nearly 11,000 square feet in total, had row after row of marijuana plants, one had a “pungent” smell throughout and another “large-scale electrical service box,” according to the lawsuits.

“It’s clear that residential grows are impacting not only neighborhoods but the residences close to those establishments,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Lizotte said.

The lawsuits are filed against properties at 368 West Ridge Road in Cornville, 590 Hanson Road in China, 414 East Kennebec Road in Machias and 9 St. Albans Road in Corinna. 

What happens to the homes once they’re seized?

Now that lawsuits regarding the properties are filed, the home owners will have a chance to provide a response. The cases will then go before a federal judge.

No responses have been filed at the time of publication and there are no court dates scheduled.

If the judge grants the forfeiture requests, the properties will be sold by the U.S. Marshal Service

If the properties are sold, who gets the money?

The proceeds are used by the Marshal Service to fund its forfeiture program, to compensate victims and to distribute to law enforcement agencies. Profits from specific forfeitures are transferred to state and local governments, but it’s unclear if Maine will receive money.

Will the feds try to seize any more homes?

If there are other “viable properties,” the U.S. attorney’s office will start forfeiture proceedings, Lizotte said. He declined to explain what makes a property viable.

There are believed to be around 100 illegal marijuana grow operations across the state, U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said previously.

“We are exploring every possible criminal and civil mechanism for enforcement to address this problem,” Lizotte said. “[The Department of Justice] policy encourages parallel investigations, both criminal and civil. So we’re intending to utilize any available tool at our disposal. That’s appropriate given the circumstances.”

Where have alleged marijuana grow houses been found?

Another alleged illegal marijuana grow house was raided by police May 13, during which more than 1,900 live plants were seized from a house at 555 Belfast Road in Freedom.

Since the beginning of the year, police have busted a number of alleged large growing operations all over rural Maine, including in Guilford and Sangerville in Piscataquis County; Corinna, Eddington and Passadumkeag in Penobscot County; Turner in Androscoggin County; Cornville, Harmony, Madison, Mercer, Norridgewock, Ripley and Skowhegan in Somerset County; Jay in Franklin County; Belgrade, China and Chelsea in Kennebec County; Jefferson and Whitefield in Lincoln County; and Belmont in Waldo County.

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