ELLSWORTH, Maine — A medical marijuana grower in northern Ellsworth was happy to have his stolen plants returned Saturday, despite the fact he’ll only be able to salvage about 15 percent of the crop.
Thomas Davis, a state-licensed marijuana caregiver, was burglarized Wednesday night, when police say Aaron Pert, 32, of Trenton, broke into Davis’ greenhouses and stole 17 marijuana plants worth an estimated $12,800.
Pert allegedly cut two large openings in Davis’ greenhouse, and apparently used clippers to remove mature, flowering branches from the large plants. He also allegedly cut a smaller hole in the side of the greenhouse that faces Davis’ home, which the caregiver said was likely a “lookout” peephole.
Pert had been charged early Thursday morning with possession of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle and possession of marijuana. After Davis reported the burglary, police questioned Pert, who admitted to stealing the plants, according to Lt. Harold Page.
Page said Pert told police where he stashed the pilfered pot. Police found the marijuana in the woods in northern Ellsworth and held onto it for two days. Police didn’t return the plants right away because the department was worried it may violate federal law in returning the medical marijuana, which is legal under Maine law but illegal at the federal level.
Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo made the decision Saturday to return the plants to Davis. On Monday, DeLeo said returning the marijuana to Davis was legal, as far as he was concerned.
Davis is a state-licensed caregiver for three patients and also uses marijuana himself to treat chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia. He said that marijuana is extremely susceptible to mold, and that he knew the longer it was outside his greenhouse, in police custody, the more likely it would be ruined.
Because the clock was running, he said he frantically called all the authorities he could think of in an effort to get the plant back: State representatives, the governor’s office, the police and the district attorney. But he didn’t get any leads until Saturday when DeLeo made the call to return the plants.
“I knew it would be useless by the time it got back to me,” he said. “The second it left the greenhouse, it was a matter of time.”
After pulling out the moldy flowers, Davis said about 15 percent of his crop will be medicine-grade. That means he’s only got about a month’s worth of medicine for himself and his clients. He said he’s not sure what will happen after that month, though some other caregivers have offered to give Davis a few plants so he can keep providing medicine to his clients. If that pans out, it will likely save Davis’ livelihood.
“My patients may end up turning to a dispensary or another caregiver,” he said. “I’m not sure yet, because I’ve only gotten a hold of one of them.”
Moreover, Davis said that losing six months worth of medicine will prevent him from focusing on developing seeds and clone plants, which he gives to other caregivers. He tries to develop strains of marijuana best suited for medicinal use, and said the burglary will set his work back by months.
If there’s a silver lining to the burglary, Davis said it’s in the cooperation between himself as a caregiver and the local police. He said thieves may target medical marijuana growers because they are used to stealing pot from illegal operations, the owners of which would never report the crime.
He also said he hopes Ellsworth’s decision to return the plants will set a precedent for future local police departments to view medical marijuana the same way they’d view any other stolen medicine they recovered.
“It’s not the Wild West out here,” he said. “I feel like most of what I’m salvaging is a chance to get this out to the public, to let people know they can’t target medical marijuana patients and growers. The police will protect us.”
In addition to the firearm and possession charges, Pert faces charges of burglary and theft. He was released from jail Friday morning on $500 unsecured bail.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.