South Portland police raid marijuana grower who claims to be a caregiver

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Police on Wednesday dismantled a marijuana growing operation run in the basement of a Harborview Avenue home by a 37-year-old man who claims to be a primary caregiver for medical marijuana patients.

Police Lt. Frank Clark said police seized about 135 marijuana plants, 2.1 pounds of processed marijuana and a variety of food products, including marijuana butter and cookies.

Clark said Brendan McGann claimed to be a registered caregiver, but is not registered with the state. McGann was charged the cultivation of marijuana, a Class C felony since more than 100 plants were involved. He was also charged with trafficking marijuana.

Clark said it wasn’t the first time police had contact with McGann.

McGann called police last October to report the theft of four, 9-foot tall marijuana plants valued at $15,000 that were among more than a dozen pot plants growing in a locked, fenced-in area of his backyard.

Clark said McGann at that time also claimed to be a medical marijuana caregiver, which would allow him to legally grow a total of 30 marijuana plants for up to five patients.

At the time, McGann provided paperwork that seemed to support that claim, Clark said. After checking with prosecutors and the state Department of Health and Human Services, police did not pursue charges.

But Clark said police recently checked the state’s list of registered caregivers and McGann was not on the list.

“We’re not anti-medicinal marijuana, because that is what the law is,” Clark said. “But anyone that obviously is not going to abide by that as enacted, we will investigate and prosecute.”

The case exposes the challenge of transitioning from the decade-old medical marijuana law, which did not require caregivers to register with the state, to the new medical marijuana law, which does.

Clark said when McGann called police about the theft last October, DHHS was still working out the new rules for the caregiver registry. The rules took effect Jan. 1, he said.

Clark said McGann, who could not be reached for comment, had records in his home “related to apparent drug transactions.”

Catherine Cobb, DHHS director of licensing and regulatory services, said the department has a backlog of caregiver applications, describing it as “an enormous workload.”

Cobb said she tries to work proactively with police to see if people who claim to be caregivers have a pending application with the department, but she would not specifically discuss McGann’s case and whether his paperwork in the backlog.

“If they are not registered, they should not be in possession of medical marijuana,” Cobb said.

McGann is listed as a board member and dispensary manager for Maine Modern Medicine, which has submitted applications with the state to open dispensaries in District 1 (York County) and District 7 (Washington and Hancock counties).

Cobb said there are currently 136 registered caregivers in the state, but wouldn’t comment on how many are in South Portland.

Clark noted that he discovered another operation last summer while on patrol. The odor stretched for about a mile from the residence, he said.

The City Council last year passed a zoning ordinance regulating dispensaries, but did not set rules or registry requirements for caregivers.

Clark said Lewiston recently passed an ordinance that requires caregivers to register with the city, which then has the authority to inspect the operations.

He said police are considering proposing similar requirements in South Portland.

“There is an enforcement issue. There is a life safety issue, when it comes to chemicals, lighting and electricity. And there’s a quality-of-life issue for neighbors and neighborhoods,” Clark said.

Clark said McGann received a criminal summons, but was not arrested and taken to jail. McGann is scheduled to appear in Portland District Court on April 6.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]