January 9, 2013

Complaints swirl around Scarborough pot growing business

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Employees at Swaney Lighting Associates first noticed the smell about three months ago.

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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.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette

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Shawn Swaney of Swaney Lighting Associates in his office at 15 Pleasant HIll Rd. in Scarborough Monday, January 7, 2013. Swaney says the smell of marijuana growing (legally) in the office below his is getting to him and his workers. He wants to do something about it, but legally, he cannot.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette

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Shawn Swaney, the company's owner, assumed it was kids smoking pot nearby. He said he has no problem with marijuana personally, and saw no reason to do or say anything.

But the smell didn't go away. Every day when Swaney and his workers arrived, they were hit with a skunky wave of marijuana scent.

After several hours in the office, Swaney said, his eyes got red and scratchy, and his throat got irritated. Four of his six employees reported feeling ill as well.

"I've been here three hours and I think I have a slight buzz already," Swaney said Monday morning.

Someone is growing marijuana in the office directly below Swaney Lighting at Pleasant Hill Place, an office complex just off Route 1. It's legal under Maine law, which says state-certified caregivers can grow as many as six plants for as many as five medical marijuana patients, for a maximum of 30 plants.

Although state officials and medical marijuana advocates say most caregivers grow in their own homes, nothing in state law dictates where a caregiver has to grow. As long as a property owner approves it, marijuana can be grown legally in a commercial space.

There is no sign on the door and no mailbox for Suite 102 at Pleasant Hill Place. On Monday, the blinds were drawn on both windows facing the parking lot, and the door to the office was covered with a sheet of reflective material. The door was locked and no one answered a knock on the door at 11:30 a.m., or at 5 p.m.

The business name on the occupancy permit is Blue Flame Arts & Crafts. The individual listed on the permit is Ballou Poppas. Several messages left at the phone number listed on the permit were not returned.

The manager at Pleasant Hill Place, Joseph Wojcik of Income Property Management, said he has begun working with the tenant to address other tenants' complaints by installing odor scrubbers and a direct vent to carry the smell away from the building.

Wojcik, who said he first rented to Poppas about five months ago, called him "a good tenant so far." Wojcik said he wrote language into the lease saying that if anyone complained, the tenant would make efforts to mitigate the problems.

Without a receptive landlord, Swaney said, he would have been stuck.

"I can't smoke on a public beach, but someone can grow directly underneath me," he said. "That doesn't seem right."

Maine's medical marijuana law was adopted in 1999, expanded significantly in 2009 and altered again in 2011.

Some say the law is now too lax and ambiguous, and are concerned about some aspects, including the elimination of reporting requirements for medical marijuana patients. The state now has no way of knowing how many patients are prescribed the drug and for what purpose.

The latest amendments to the law, some of which took effect as recently as Jan. 1, allow caregivers to grow outdoors as long as they have certain security measures. Odors are not addressed in the latest rules.

The issue at Pleasant Hill Place in Scarborough could be another unintended consequence of loosening Maine's medical marijuana law, but it appears to be rare.

Dave Grysk, Scarborough's zoning administrator, issued the occupancy permit to Poppas and was told that the space would be used for growing marijuana. "We had our reservations, but it met all the requirements," he said.

To his knowledge, Pleasant Hill Place is the town's only growing operation in a commercial location.

Patricia Doucette, code enforcement officer in neighboring South Portland, said she has received inquiries about growing marijuana in a commercial location but has not issued any permit.

(Continued on page 2)

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