January 10, 2013

Scarborough office pot grower wants to clear the air with neighbors

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH —The man who is growing medical marijuana in a commercial building in Scarborough said Wednesday that he doesn't understand neighboring tenants' objections to a wholly legal operation.

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15 Pleasant HIll Rd. in Scarborough Monday, January 7, 2013 where one to the tenants is legally growing marijuana. Some tenants say the smell is bothering them but there is nothing they can do about it legally.

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Nevertheless, Ballou Poppas of Portland said he's working to address odor complaints and has beefed up security, now that the location of his small crop has been publicized.

Poppas, 38, did not return calls for comment Monday or Tuesday. He contacted the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday, after the newspaper published a story about complaints from a neighboring business at Pleasant Hill Place about the strong smell of marijuana.

"I'm not the first one to grow in an office and I won't be the last," he said. "Have you seen Colorado or California? It's an entire industry."

Maine's medical marijuana program is still evolving, but advocates and town officials said growing medical marijuana in a commercial space, rather than in a home, appears to be rare -- at least so far.

Scarborough officials said Poppas is the only person who has been granted a business permit to grow marijuana. Officials in neighboring Portland, South Portland and Westbrook said the issue has not yet come up in their cities.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said the state doesn't track whether someone grows in their home or in a commercial location.

Poppas said he rented the office space at Pleasant Hill Place, just off Route 1 in Scarborough, primarily to sell his artwork. The business name on the occupancy license is Blue Flame Arts & Crafts.

Poppas described his work as a combination of found art, multimedia and Japanese-influenced painting. He said marijuana growing is simply a secondary use.

So, why grow in a commercial space? "Why not?" Poppas said. "I can use that space for whatever I want."

He said he is not a certified caregiver and grows marijuana strictly for his own use. He said he was certified as a medical marijuana patient about two years ago and uses it to treat chronic back and shoulder pain.

Poppas said he has four plants. Under state law, medical marijuana patients are allowed to have as many as six.

The property manager at Pleasant Hill Place, Joseph Wojcik, said he first rented to Poppas about five months ago and the tenant was upfront about growing marijuana.

Wojcik said he wrote language into the lease that said Poppas would have to address any complaints from neighboring tenants.

Shawn Swaney, who owns a lighting business directly above Poppas' growing operation, said a strong smell of marijuana has persisted for at least three months.

Swaney and four of his employees have complained about the smell and are concerned about possible side effects. Other tenants said they have noticed the smell, too, but are not as concerned as Swaney.

Swaney took his complaint to Wojcik, who agreed to work with Poppas to mitigate the odor.

Poppas has installed an ionizer and carbon scrubber in the 1,300-square-foot office space and plans to install a direct vent.

He said the improvements, including the installation of a ventilation system, come at a cost. "I work hard to pay for that space," he said.

Poppas said his biggest concern now is that his cultivation site has been publicized. Anyone who read the story in the Press Herald now knows that marijuana is growing at Pleasant Hill Place.

He said he's worried about being robbed, although the site was secure already and he's working to make it more secure.

"I hope it doesn't come down to me having to move out," he said. "I want to stay."

Swaney said he's glad that his neighbor is working to address the odor, but he's surprised that, as a business owner, he had no recourse other than to contact his landlord.

As Maine's medical marijuana program grows, Swaney said he thinks lawmakers should have guidelines related to smell if someone is growing in a commercial area.


Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:
Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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