SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine -- 09/19/18 -- Charlotte Gill, center, stands with two of her staff at Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in the local village of Seawall on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Gill says she has devised a way to treat lobster with marijuana smoke before cooking them, in order to make the process of storing and then killing the crustaceans more humane. Bill Trotter|BDN Credit: Bill Trotter|BDN

A Maine lobster pound owner who is treating lobster with marijuana smoke before cooking them in hopes of killing them more humanely says she hopes to have a treatment system fully in place in “the next few weeks,” despite concerns that have been raised by the state and an animal rights group.

Charlotte Gill, owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in the Southwest Harbor village of Seawall, said Friday that officials with Maine’s medical marijuana program paid her a visit on Thursday. Gill, who grows marijuana as a licensed medical marijuana caregiver, said they told her the marijuana she grows has to be used for human medical purposes and cannot be used to treat lobster.

Gill and her employees have developed a prototype similar to a so-called “hot box,” in which a lobster is placed in a sealed, plastic container with a couple of inches of water in the bottom and then marijuana smoke is blown in via a tube that allows the smoke to bubble up through the water. After a few minutes, the lobster is noticeably more relaxed and less aggressive, according to Gill.

The state has not expressed any concern that the practice is inconsistent with commercial food handling requirements, Gill said. Nonetheless, she and her employees will make some minor adjustments to the system they have devised for treating lobster before it is fully implemented at her eatery, she added.

“After being contacted by the state, and upon reviewing its present laws and codes applicable to this [issue], we are completely confident that we can proceed as planned,” Gill said in a statement.

Gill said that she is grateful for the feedback she has gotten from the state because it is helping her make sure that her the process of boiling lobster can be made more humane. Not only does the treatment make the lobsters more calm and feel less pain, she said, but it makes the cooked product taste better because the crustaceans are not stressed out when they go in the pot.

“We kind of owe them a ‘thank you’ for that,” Gill said of the state officials who spoke to her Thursday. “We are trying to make the world a better place by taking as much pain out of it as we can.”

Gill’s initiative has reignited a long-running debate over whether lobsters feel pain at all, given their relatively primitive nervous systems, which lack a central cerebral cortex. Lobster biologists have said that, aside from their size, lobster more closely resemble insects than they do fish.

It also has ignited a debate on whether lobsters can feel the effects of THC, which is the primary chemical compound in marijuana that provides smokers with the “high” they get from inhaling it.

Gill says lobster have cannabinoid receptors in their nervous systems, allowing them to be sedated by the smoke. Dr. Robert Bayer, a University of Maine professor and former director of UMaine’s Lobster Institute, has said there are scientific studies of South Pacific lobster that suggest this could be true.

But, Bayer added Wednesday, “nobody knows what’s really going on.”

Meanwhile, the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has frequently campaigned in Maine against killing lobsters for food, also has weighed in on Gill’s idea. On Thursday, PETA released a statement Thursday dismissing the practice.

“It is highly unlikely that getting a lobster high would make a lick of difference when it comes to the full-blown agony of being boiled or steamed alive,” the organization said, according to Portland-based CBS 13.

Gill, however, called PETA “one of the largest euthanizers of animals on the planet” and said the group might learn something from her.

“Maybe they should consider taking a page from our book and incorporating cannabis into their practices as well,” she said. “It’s far more ethical.”

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Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....