Officials calling for more oversight of medical marijuana industry | News

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Officials calling for more oversight of medical marijuana industry

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- South Portland's police chief is calling for more oversight of the medical marijuana industry in Maine.

He said since the state's medical marijuana program has expanded in the past few years, his department has had to investigate what, at first, appears to be illegal activity, but ultimately turns out not to be.

"They are cropping up several times a year now, where they were not an issue before," South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins said.

In late January, South Portland Police responded to a disturbance call at a house on Southwell Avenue. Once at the home, officers noticed cooking equipment and other materials they believed could be used to make methamphetamine, or crystal meth.

"We had to get obviously resources in there to find out just what the heck was going on," Googins said.

South Portland Fire Department and experts with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency were called in, along with every officer from South Portland working that night. Some of those officers would have otherwise been on patrol in other parts of the city.

"It was an all hands on deck to deal with that situation until we knew exactly what we did have," Googins said.

After using all these resources, it turned out not to be a meth lab. Instead, someone at the house was boiling marijuana to extract THC, one of the active chemicals in pot. Police said they are convinced the person doing it was a caregiver and not breaking any laws.

In some cases, a caregiver growing and processing marijuana may be operating outside the Medical Marijuana Act, which would be a civil violation, while not committing a crime. Googins said this gray area makes it difficult for local law enforcement to obtain warrants to search homes.

Ken Albert is the director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, within DHHS, which is responsible for regulating the Maine Medical Marijuana Act.

"We have had complaints from law enforcement officers on a weekly basis, if not daily, regarding the state's enforcement authority over the caregiver industry in Maine" Albert said.

The agency has been pushing for state laws that would enhance its enforcement ability for the past three legislative sessions to no avail, according to Albert.

"We would ensure that caregivers are operating under the confines of the Maine Medical Marijuana Act, that they're cultivating appropriately, that they're distributing to patients who they're authorized to distribute to," he said.

With several bills in front of lawmakers this session, it's possible new regulatory laws could be passed by spring.

Albert admits there can sometimes be a gap between the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services and local law enforcement, but said he has been working hard to close that gap over the past few years.


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