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Senator Collins Questions U.S. Attorney General on Efforts to Shut Down Illegal Chinese Marijuana Operations in Maine

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Washington, D.C. – At a hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2025 budget request for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, questioned U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on what federal law enforcement is doing to help shut down illegal Chinese marijuana growing operations in Maine and support the efforts of state, county, and local law enforcement.

During Q&A with Attorney General Garland, Senator Collins said:

Particularly in our rural communities, Chinese nationals are establishing and operating illegal marijuana growing operations.  I first raised concerns about this problem in June of 2022Thanks to the work of some enterprising Maine journalists, we now know that there are more than 200 such operations operating in houses across our state.  And by the way, those houses are forever ruined by the operations, and that contributes to our housing shortage as well.

Last month, I asked the FBI Director about this matter during his open testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.  While the Director cited the FBI's efforts to support task force and secure indictments, he was unable to answer a fundamental, troubling question, and that is, why is China sending its citizens, sneaking them into the country, to open illegal marijuana operations in rural Maine communities.

Just recently, three Chinese nationals were apprehended as they crossed the border illegally in northern Maine.

Now, we've had a tremendous effort by state, county, and local law enforcement to identify and start shutting down these illegal operations.  But there are very clear federal interests here, particularly with respect to national security.

Two days ago, your Office of Legislative Affairs finally responded to four inquiries that I had sent to the Department on this topic.  But unfortunately, the response letter provided almost no substantive information on whether the Department is making this a priority, working with state, local, and county law enforcement, and exploring the national security implications.  And I do recognize there's a limit to what you can say in a letter of that sort.

But General Garland, what are the Criminal Division, the National Security Division, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maine doing to address these illegal growing operations? And, in particular, what are they doing to support the tremendous, but under-resourced effort at the state, county, and local level?

Attorney General Garland:

Senator, you've raised a serious problem.  It's not only a Maine problem.  So, DEA is reporting that there are transnational criminal organizations in some 20 states that are not so much grow houses, but illegal marijuana grows.  I know specifically with respect to Maine, that DEA and the FBI are working with the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as local law enforcement, to investigate those illegal grows.  I also know that the U.S. Attorney in Maine has made this a priority for her office.  In most cases, I recommend talking to the Office of Legislative Affairs, but I know you are very well synced up with U.S. Attorney's Office there, and they obviously have more very specific Maine information.  But I don't think anybody could take this more seriously than our U.S. Attorney there, and she is able to harness the resources of all of our agencies.  Not only our own, but also Department of Homeland Security and IRS.

Senator Collins continued:

Do you have a theory on why the Chinese are sending people illegally into our country to establish these grow operations?  As you point out, it's not just Maine, I believe Oklahoma, for example, has had a problem as well.

Attorney General Garland:

I don't have a theory now.  Normally, I develop a theory by learning the facts from the different investigative entities that look into this.  So, at this point, I don't have a theory.  There are a lot of obvious theories, including the profit motive, and these transnational criminal organizations are operating--the reason we call them transnationals is they are operating all over the world to make money where they can.  But I can't tell you what the specific motivation here is.


Senator Collins has long led efforts to crack down on the illicit Chinese marijuana growing operations in Maine.  In response to concerns raised by constituents in 2022, Senator Collins sent a letter to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA) Director sharing relevant information and asking the MDEA to take appropriate actions “consistent with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”  Since then, Senator Collins and the Maine Delegation sent letters to Attorney General Garland in August 2023 and January 2024.  In the fall of 2023, Senator Collins received a briefing from the U.S. DEA Administrator on the agency’s efforts.  Earlier this year, Senator Collins signed joined a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Attorney General Garland requesting a briefing on the DOJ’s efforts to address illicit Chinese marijuana growing operations.  At the annual worldwide threats open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month, Senator Collins questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on the FBI’s efforts to support state, local, and county officials in combating illegal marijuana growing operations.