Feds File Charges Against Maine Weed Grower After Probe Spanning 20 States

A Maine man was arrested and held without bail last week on federal charges of illegal cannabis cultivation as part of a yearslong investigation encompassing 20 states.

By
A.J. Herrington

A Maine man was arrested and held without bail last week for allegedly operating an unlicensed cannabis operation in a rural area about 60 miles north of Bangor, according to law enforcement officials and court records. Police seized 40 pounds of processed marijuana from a house in Passadumkeag, Maine and arrested Xisen Guo, who is accused of drug trafficking and turning the property into a sophisticated cannabis cultivation operation. 

Maine legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 with the passage of a ballot measure that also established a regulated market for adult-use cannabis. The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy said that Guo has not been licensed to cultivate marijuana and was operating the site illegally, court records show.

Guo was ordered held without bail on the federal charges on Friday, making him the first person in Maine to face such accusations. Two other individuals who were at the site when it was raided in February were released without charges being filed against them.

The grow site was raided after deputies reviewed electricity bills for the property and identified a significant increase in electricity usage. After the rural home was purchased for $125,000 cash, the electricity bill went from about $300 per month to almost $9,000 per month. Investigators said the electricity usage is consistent with the lights, HVAC equipment and other apparatus used in sophisticated cultivation operations.

Federal Investigation Encompasses 20 States

The arrest of the suspect, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in China, comes in the midst of a federal investigation spanning several years and 20 states into illegal pot grows being operated by foreign interests. In 2018, police arrested a Seattle woman and seized thousands of weed plants during an investigation of cultivation sites linked to China. In Oklahoma, law enforcement officials determined that groups from Mexico and China started growing pot in the state after medical marijuana was legalized in 2018. Instead of remaining in Oklahoma for use by registered patients, however, the weed was diverted to states where it is still illegal.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee in response to a question from Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine that the Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating international criminal groups that are operating illicit cannabis cultivation operations in about 20 states including Maine. 

In February, a bipartisan group of 50 lawmakers including Collins wrote a letter to the attorney general asking him to answer questions about reports that China may be connected to illegal marijuana cultivation operations in the United States.

“We are deeply concerned with reports from across the country regarding Chinese nationals and organized crime cultivating marijuana on United States farmland,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, CBS News reported over the weekend.

100 Illicit Grow Sites in Maine

In Maine, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, DEA and local law enforcement are working together to investigate unlicensed cannabis cultivation operations, Garland told lawmakers. Federal officials say that there are currently about 100 illicit pot grow sites in Maine similar to the one in Passadumkeag. Since June, approximately 40 search warrants have been issued for unlicensed cultivation operations in the state.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine Darcie McElwee said that dismantling unlicensed cannabis operations with connections to international crime groups is a priority for law enforcement “and we will continue to marshal every tool at our disposal in this effort as appropriate.”

So far, state and local police and federal law enforcement agencies including the DEA and FBI are beginning to see success at dismantling illicit cultivation sites, she said, with “dozens of operations” shut down over recent months.

“The possible involvement of foreign nationals using Maine properties to profit from unlicensed marijuana operations and interstate distributions makes it clear that there is a need for a strong and sustained federal, state and local effort to shut down these operations,” McElwee said, according to a report from the Portland Press Herald.

Raymond Donovan, the former chief of operations for the DEA, told CBS News earlier this month that unusually high electricity bills are one of the easiest ways to identify an illegal cannabis cultivation operation.

“These locations consume huge amounts of electricity,” he said. “In order to accommodate that amount of energy, you need to upgrade your electrical infrastructure — and significantly. We’re getting into specialty electrical equipment that is very scarce and hard to come by, especially in the state of Maine.” 

Another illicit grow site in Machias, Maine was raided in December after police noticed unusual electricity usage. After the raid, which yielded 2,600 plants and about 100 pounds of processed and packaged cannabis, Machias Police Chief Keith Mercier said that the cultivation site was using about four or five times as much electricity as a typical residence would.

“Once we subpoenaed the power records from the power company, [it] was pretty hard to explain why somebody anywhere would be using that amount of power,” he told CBS News.

A.J. Herrington

A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.

View Comments

  • WTF?
    HOW IS USING A LOT OF ELECTRICITY A CRIME OR EVIDENCE OF A CRIME?

    "Investigators said the electricity usage is consistent with the lights, HVAC equipment and other apparatus used in sophisticated cultivation operations.”
    &
    “Once we subpoenaed the power records from the power company, [it] was pretty hard to explain why somebody anywhere would be using that amount of power,”

    When did using a lot of electricity become a crime in the USA?
    &
    When did using a lot of electricity become evidence of a crime in the USA?

    I may not agree with what this person was doing, but i do hope he fights and wins his case on the grounds of an illegal search based on a lack of evidence (required for the search warrant) for a crime being committed. There was no mention of him stealing electricity!

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