Despite the remoteness of the state and the fact that it’s not very synonymous with American cannabis culture, Maine has been very progressive on all matters related to cannabis when compared to other states. Several years before the majority of American states decided on medical legalization, Maine authorized medicinal cannabis usage in 1999 with Question 2 by a 23 percent margin. During the endlessly chaotic 2016 election where the highly publicized antics of the TV show host-turned-presidential candidate were admittedly taking center stage, The Pine Tree State voted to legalize cannabis recreationally with Question 1. Unlike the considerable margin that Question 2 passed by, the fact that the 2016 measure was enshrined into law is nothing short of a legislative miracle.
For starters, Question 1 only passed by a vote of 50.3% in favor and 49.7% against, which adds up to a margin of less than 5,000 votes. Even more disadvantageous, the state of Maine announced a recount of the vote only days after the bill passed by the slim margin that it did. Luckily, the recount didn’t change the outcome of the bill but Governor Paul LaPage vetoed the bill in November 2017 before the state Legislature overturned the veto in May of 2018. Years after regulation-creating and back and forths with various government organizations and even further delays caused by the pandemic, recreational cannabis sales finally started statewide in October of 2020.
Since then, the state industry has been decently successful when considering the size and lower population in comparison to California. In 2021, $81 million of cannabis was sold in Maine and the total sales nearly doubled in 2022 when $158 million of cannabis was sold. Maine cannabis consumers enjoy a very conservative tax rate of only 10 percent and a total of 217 retail licenses, 151 cultivation licenses and 118 manufacturing licenses have been allocated. With a population of less than 1.4 million, a state industry of this size is remarkable.
However, a recent case involving a Maine-based cultivator is making national news, not only for the scope of the charges but also because of the legal defense that this cultivator is using. According to a 14-count criminal complaint filed by The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine in 2021, 13 defendants are being charged with running an interstate cannabis empire that began as a licensed medical cannabis cultivator before transitioning into the illicit market. The charges included in this indictment are both varied and severe, with everything from tax fraud to intent to distribute controlled substances and the most intense of all, conspiracy to defraud the United States.
And based on this announcement from the US Attorney’s Office, this scale of this operation was far beyond a few unlicensed or undocumented sales. In total, millions were alleged to have been sold across state lines along with allegations of other serious bribery offenses and the most featured defendant in this case was the supposed ring leader and a Maine medical cannabis cultivation license holder, Lucas Sirois.
“He and his co-conspirators realized in excess of $13 million over a six-year period through the illicit sale of marijuana.” the damning report reads. “Sirois structured his operations to appear as though they complied with Maine’s medical marijuana regime while he regularly sold bulk marijuana on the illicit market, including more than $1 million worth of marijuana for out-of-state distribution between 2018 and 2019 through codefendant Brandon Dagnese, 27, of Scarborough, a convicted felon who was ineligible to hold a caregiver card in Maine.”
However, the defense that the Farmington-based canna-business owner and his counsel are taking is a strategy in which someone doesn’t have to be a Harvard Law graduate to see the flimsiness in. In 2015, Congress passed a clause in a 2014 omnibus spending bill called the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment. Similar to the Cole Memorandum, the amendment prohibited the Department of Justice from interfering with licensed and compliant cannabis operations.
If Sirois and his operations stayed entirely in Maine and conducted business solely with other licensed retailers and distributors, then there would be a valid legal argument. However, the allegations of the criminal complaint from the DOJ state that over $1 million of cannabis products were sold over state lines. Even if one were to disregard the substantial amount of cannabis that was allegedly sold across state lines, the financial crimes and allegations of corruption detailed in the DOJ announcement certainly aren’t protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment or the Cole Memo.
Lucas Sirois included family members, including Alisa and Robert Sirois, in this large-scale operation and allegedly committed fraud when it came to the services of his financial institutions.“He lied to his financial institution about the nature of his business and the source of funds that flowed through his accounts.” the announcement read. “Sirois and his tax preparer Kenneth Allen, 48, of Farmington, filed false income tax returns to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, resulting in tax loss to the United States in excess of $400,000.”
The most shocking allegation of this announcement isn’t the dollar amounts of products sold but rather the number of high-ranking government officials that were alleged to have taken bribes from Sirois and his partners in exchange for powerful information and favors.
“Then-Franklin County Deputy Sheriffs Bradley Scovil, 33, of Rangeley, and Derrick Doucette, 29, of Jay, obtained confidential law enforcement information for Sirois that he used to benefit his illegal business; in exchange, Sirois rewarded Scovil and Doucette with ownership interests in his business and brand new “company” cars. Later, Sirois used Scovil and Doucette’s network of active law enforcement officials to obtain information about the ongoing federal investigation into his criminal activity.”
Apparently, the Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Kayla Alves then informed Scovil that Sirois and his operation were being investigated following Wilton police officer Kevin Lemay and then-Oxford County deputy sheriff James McLamb utilizing government databases to confirm the existence of the investigation. All three of these people destroyed electronic evidence of this communication soon after.
The defense for Sirois is looking dire as one of his numerous defendants has pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and 1,000 marijuana plants. Even worse, the DOJ has filed an additional civil complaint which will undoubtedly have a drastic impact on any legal operation that Sirois may have engaged in. “In addition to the criminal complaint,” the DOJ announcement concluded with, “a civil complaint was unsealed today in federal court, seeking the forfeiture of 12 real properties involved in the facilitation of illegal marijuana trafficking and/or purchased with illegal drug proceeds.”
While it’s incredibly convenient that the usually stubborn federal government has implemented a few legal protections for licensed and compliant state operators, those protections absolutely don’t provide any protection from prosecution of interstate trafficking charges and certainly no protection from bribery and corruption charges.