State inspectors are investigating a Southwest Harbor restaurant for using marijuana to try to sedate lobsters it was about to cook.

The Maine Health Inspection Program is investigating Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound, but it hasn’t issued any findings yet, said Emily Spencer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees the program. She would not say if the agency had asked the owner, Charlotte Gill, to stop the practice during the investigation.

On Friday, Gill said her infamous “smoked” lobster meat isn’t available to customers, but she is confident the restaurant, which she has started calling the official home of the “high-end lobster,” will soon be able to offer cannabis-sedated lobster to informed customers without violating Maine laws or codes.

“After being contacted by the state, and upon reviewing its present laws and codes applicable to this arena, and then making a few minor adjustments to our procedure, we are completely confident that we will be able to proceed as planned,” Gill said. “Keep in mind this meat is presently not available, and we don’t expect it to be for a little while longer … Soon though.”

Gill said she anticipates she will be in compliance with state regulations and able to resume sales of the special lobster meat by mid-October.

///////////“I imagine we will still have a pushback from the state on our hands, but we are confident that we will be able to field any issues they may have with us, and do it with grace,” Gill said in an email. “These are important issues and ones that can also benefit not only the lobster, but the industry as well. Truly we are not trying to go against (the state’s) wishes and would love to work with them in order for us all to make this world a kinder place.”

///Spencer said it would be up to the Maine Medical Marijuana Program to determine if Gill was using the cannabis appropriately. But the program doesn’t comment on medical marijuana violations, so it would not confirm whether it was investigating Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound or Gill, spokesman David Heidrich said.

Based on Heidrich’s email, the state doesn’t seem to approve.

“Medical marijuana may only be grown for and provided to persons with a marijuana recommendation from a qualified medical provider,” he said. “Lobsters are not people.”

Heidrich also said that recreational marijuana products can only be sold in marijuana stores, but the state has not started issuing licenses for those establishments. The recreational marijuana law also says marijuana cannot be exchanged for any type of payment or service.

The state review came after the story of Gill’s unofficial lobster experiments and her hunt for a humane way to kill them made national headlines this week. Gill is a state-licensed medical marijuana caregiver, and has Maine’s blessing to grow marijuana for medical use, but state regulators aren’t sure if that applies to use on animals, or if it violates state health codes.

Gill has been placing lobsters in a covered box with 2 inches of water at the bottom, then blowing cannabis smoke into the water, in hopes of sedating the lobsters to make their deaths less traumatic. According to Gill, the lobsters are calmer after exposure to the cannabis smoke, and do not wield their claws again, even when they are left unbanded.

But lobster scientists are less certain of the sedative effect, noting that lobsters don’t use their claws as weapons, nor if it would make their deaths less traumatic. Many scientists, like former Lobster Institute Director Robert Bayer of the University of Maine, note that the lobster nervous system is primitive, like that of an insect, and does not experience the world like a human.

Scientists say dropping a lobster in boiling water destroys that nervous system so fast that they are unlikely to feel anything.

But not everyone agrees. Earlier this year, Switzerland decided to ban boiling live lobsters, citing studies that suggest the crustacean can feel pain. New Zealand instituted the same ban in 1999. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – or PETA – has staged protests at major lobster festivals to draw attention to the practice of boiling lobsters alive.

Gill said she hoped that next year all the pound’s lobsters could be sedated before cooking.

Gill believes this method does not infuse the lobster meat with THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana that makes a consumer feel high. She said THC breaks down at about 400 degrees, and that her cooking methods will heat the lobster to more than 420 degrees, thus making sure there is no possibility of a “carryover effect.”

“The process is for the physical comfort of the lobster, not the consumer,” Gill said on her Facebook page.

The Maine Health Inspection Program is investigating Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor regarding its experiment of sedating lobsters with marijuana smoke before boiling them. Owner Charlotte Gill said she wants a more humane way of treating the crustaceans. (Charlotte Gill photo)

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