Federal authorities on Friday released new information on the illegal marijuana growing operations that have been raided by police in Maine in recent months, such as one busted in Norridgewock late last month, above. Photo courtesy of Somerset County Sheriff’s Office

Federal authorities said Friday that the dozens of illegal marijuana growing operations busted in recent months in central Maine may be tied to organized, transnational crime organizations, but there is no evidence that they are linked to human trafficking or illegal immigration.

In the last several months, federal, state, and local authorities have shut down more than 40 illegal grows in Maine, Darcie N. McElwee, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine, said in a statement issued Friday.

Authorities believe they have identified about 100 such operations in Maine, with most in rural areas in the central part of the state, McElwee said. That number could fluctuate as busts continue and people involved abandon them to avoid criminal charges, her statement said.

“We expect this law enforcement action to continue until the individuals operating the illegal grows come to understand that Maine is not a safe or hospitable place for such activity,” McElwee said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration believes that “transnational criminal organizations” with ties to China are involved in illegal marijuana grows in at least 20 states, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The recent push to shut down the illegal grows in Maine came after Maine’s congressional delegation renewed its call in January for the U.S. Department of Justice to support local law enforcement in investigating the operations, which reportedly generate billions of dollars for Chinese investors.


“The possibility that organized criminal enterprises with alleged ties to China are using Maine properties to profit from unlicensed marijuana operations and interstate distribution makes it clear that there is need for a strong and sustained federal, state and local effort to shut down and thoroughly investigate these operations,” McElwee said.

Despite the alleged international ties and reports that the illegal grows benefit Chinese investors, those arrested during recent busts have all been U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents with addresses in other states such as Massachusetts and New York, McElwee’s statement said.

Three Chinese nationals recently apprehended at a border crossing in northern Maine are not believed to be connected to the illegal marijuana grows, McElwee said.

The people working at the growing operations appear to be doing so willingly and there is no evidence of human trafficking, according to federal authorities.

“Human trafficking is a heinous crime that our Office takes seriously,” McElwee said. “Any evidence of human trafficking will be thoroughly investigated and if discovered, vigorously prosecuted.”

Several federal agencies, including the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Internal Revenue Service have been working with state and local law enforcement to investigate the illegal grows, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.


It remains unclear, though, who is ultimately footing the bill for the investigations.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster told the county’s Board of Commissioners in February that the cost falls on his office. The investigations require a significant amount of time and resources before law enforcement can obtain a search warrant, Lancaster said.

Of the approximately 40 search warrants federal authorities say they have executed in recent months, 15 have been in Somerset County, according to information released Tuesday by the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

Police in other parts of central Maine, including Franklin, Kennebec, and Lincoln counties, have also carried out similar investigations with the support of federal authorities.

Not all of the busts have resulted in arrests, though authorities say their investigations are ongoing.

Earlier in April, a search of a grow in the Penobscot County town of Passadumkeag led federal authorities to bring federal charges for the first time in such a case in Maine, the Associated Press reported. McElwee said in her statement Friday that her office will continue to consider federal charges in other cases as its investigation continues.

Most of the reported illegal growing operations have taken over entire residences, police have said. In some cases, there were no living quarters or severe cases of black mold. Police have also reported several health and safety code violations in addition to the illegal growing activities.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story