POLICE BEAT

Second medical marijuana theft reported in Sagadahoc County

Posted Sept. 27, 2011, at 3:40 p.m.

WOOLWICH, Maine — The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the theft of medical marijuana plants from a Middle Road home.

The burglary marks the second time this month that thieves swiped marijuana being cultivated legally for medical purposes in Sagadahoc County. The Richmond Police Department handled a reported burglary of five large, legally grown medical marijuana plants from a Front Street residence taken the night of Sept. 9 or morning of Sept. 10.

Chief Deputy Brett Strout said a man legally grows medical marijuana plants on the Woolwich property for himself and one other person. The man reported about 8:30 a.m. Saturday that three plants between 8 and 10 feet tall had been taken the previous night.

Strout said investigators found evidence and are pursuing leads to identify the person responsible for stealing the plants. Sgt. Dale Hamilton is the investigating officer.

Individuals now allowed to grow medicinal marijuana under new stipulations of the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act have become targets of thieves and a new headache for law enforcement agencies, Strout said.

Sheriff Joel Merry agreed with Strout’s assessment.

“That’s a whole new dimension for law enforcement,” Merry said Monday. “Because in the past, these kinds of incidents generally weren’t reported to us, and the only time that we would find ourselves investigating one of these [cases] is if there had been some kind of home invasion in which weapons were used — a real serious crime. But if it was just a theft [of marijuana] or even an illegal entry, we would never even be notified.”

Merry said in the past it was illegal to possess or grow any marijuana, “so our investigation would focus as much on victims as trying to identify the perpetrators.”

This is no longer the case, he said. People whose legally cultivated medical marijuana is stolen are legitimate victims, “and they’re entitled to the full benefits of their own investigation by law enforcement.”

Problematic, Merry said, are cases in which a neighbor becomes suspicious and reports alleged marijuana cultivation nearby. Before enactment of the new law that allows people to grow a limited amount of marijuana for medicinal purposes, police would execute a search warrant and conduct an investigation after receiving a credible tip.

Now, however, they no longer can assume the operation is illegal, Merry said.

“Now we have to be a little more cautious of how we approach those situations,” he said. “We find ourselves going to the door, and saying, ‘Let’s talk about your grow operations.’”

When Maine voters passed the law in November 2009 after a statewide citizen-initiated referendum, Merry said he suspected this would become an issue for law enforcement.

“I don’t necessarily ascribe to the belief that laws that have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana will diminish the black market,” he said. “I think there will still be a significant amount of underworld drug trade and, subsequently, people will be breaking into places where there’s a legal source to support their habits.”

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