Maine legalized cannabis back in 2017, but its law enforcement officials want to be clear that not all uses of the drug are acceptable. On Monday, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Public Safety Michael Sauschuck announced a plan to create a new squad to fight cannabis-related crimes that will cost $649,000 a year. 

“As other states have seen, there is absolutely a time and place for enforcement,” said Sauschuck. 

The new four-person Drug Enforcement Agency division aims to crack down on those selling and distributing cannabis who are not licensed by the state’s system. Activities will be split between the surveillance of those committing criminal acts, like selling to minors, and civil non-compliance issues, such as otherwise-legal companies who let their licenses expire or fail to properly test the products they sell. 

Sauschuck’s announcement comes at a time in which legal cannabis sales in Maine have yet to begin. Past forecasts pegged the industry’s opening date to take place as early as March. The government started accepting business applications on December 5th, and questions have already arisen over whether the state will have a sufficient amount of testing facilities to meet the industry’s demand. 

Maine’s Marijuana Missteps

Maine is still calibrating how best to regulate marijuana businesses. One bill to alter the requirements that businesses enter sensitive information into public record was introduced earlier this month, introduced as a necessary stopgap for keeping Maine cannabis industry secrets safe from competitors. 

The prospect of a brand new team of law enforcement agents focusing on the cannabis industry, has smacked of a partial return to prohibition era tactics to some people, however. 

Mark Barnett, a medical marijuana caregiver who recently applied for a permit to open a recreational dispensary, is among them. 

“We do not want to see one additional person incarcerated for marijuana,” Barnett told a reporter. “It’s a move in the wrong direction and counter to the very idea of legalization.”

But some of the unit’s supporters from the political world said its establishment is meant as a deterrent to those who might otherwise run afoul of cannabis laws. 

“My hope would be that we don’t have to send people to jail to convince the gray market to participate in the regulated marketplace,” said state Representative Kent Ackley. “Nonetheless, the threat of doing that is an important piece of what we’re trying to accomplish with these four agents.”

One retired official, former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, encouraged the state to wait until the industry opens to see if such non-compliance issues and crimes are a major problem — before plunking down the cash for a new team of weed police. 

He wasn’t alone in calling foul over the use of resources to police cannabis. 

“I thought we legalized cannabis,” said co-chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, Representative Charlotte Warren. “If we have spent a total of $33.2 million over just the time I’ve been in the legislature, why are we adding more agents for something that we actually legalized?”

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