Owners of a large, indoor marijuana-growing operation in Auburn have escaped largely unscathed from a state investigation that uncovered 20 infractions, including the use of pesticides on marijuana they were selling for human consumption.
State law expressly forbids the use of pesticides in growing medical marijuana, yet the company admitted using seven such products while denying the use of another two found in containers on the site.
Wellness Connection was also found to be producing and selling kief, which refers to the resin of cannabis that often gathers in containers and is sifted out in the production process.
Kief contains a much higher concentration of psychoactive cannabinoids, such as THC, than marijuana itself, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. It is often pressed into cakes and sold as hashish.
Despite these seemingly serious violations, the state issued no fines and, remarkably, has allowed the company to continue selling the tainted marijuana at its four locations in Maine.
Wellness Connection has no local dispensaries and is not connected with the medical marijuana provider in Auburn.
The company has been required to send a notice to its 2,400 customers warning them of the nine "general use pesticides."
While many of the pesticides are promoted as "organic," state law specifically says even organic pesticides are forbidden.
An Internet search found that some of the pesticides are commonly used by both legal and illegal marijuana-growing operations in other states.
But that is not true of the one pesticide the owners claim they were not using, "Forbid 4F Ornamental Insecticide/Miticide." It is intended only for ornamental plants.
The product label contains cautions for application, including warnings about inhaling or even touching the pesticide.
The Forbid label warns of "hazards to humans and domestic animals" and says Forbid 4F is "harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin."
While the Wellness Connection owners say Forbid was not used on the marijuana, the area around the company's Auburn plant is barren of bushes, shrubs or trees, begging the question of why it was found at the plant.
The state's warning letter simply lumps Forbid in with the other chemicals it concludes the Wellness Connection was using on the marijuana.
The state's Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services did force Wellness Connection to sign a detailed consent agreement to help ensure future compliance with state law.
The agreement requires beefed-up security, more frequent inspections, weekly status reports, better inventory control and creation of a compliance subcommittee of its board of directors.
The medical marijuana industry in Maine is young, and start-ups often have difficulty getting off the ground.
But many of the violations found at the Wellness Connection growing operation were willful and obvious. Employees who talked to the Sun Journal said they had brought the illegal use of pesticides to the attention of management and were ignored.
The state should have leveled a fine, a fine at least large enough to cover the cost of investigating the violations and the cost of the heightened state enforcement going forward, and it should have forced the company to recall any contained products.
In lieu of that, the state should order Wellness Connection to provide customers with a refund for any unused marijuana products the customers are now afraid to use.
Unfortunately, the Department of Regulatory Services has set a lax enforcement precedent for future violators of the state's marijuana-growing regulations.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.