February 05, 2024
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King and Congressman Jared Golden are leading a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting a briefing on Chinese state-owned marijuana farms in Maine and across the United States. In a letter to Attorney General of the United States Merrick Garland, King, Golden, and their colleagues express concern for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affiliated marijuana cultivation operations in the United States, the impacts on legal marijuana growing operations, and the probability of transnational criminal organizations operating throughout the country. U.S. Senator Susan Collins and Representative Chellie Pingree have also signed on to the letter.
A leaked document from the Department of Homeland Security dated August 2023 suggests that these illicit farms are part of a larger network involving Asian transnational criminal organizations. The revenue generated by these illegal operations reportedly dwarfs that of legal marijuana markets, indicating a significant underground economy. This letter highlights the more nefarious impacts of these operations—not only are they impacting law-abiding businesses, but they also can be engaged in human trafficking, forced labor, drug trafficking, and violent crime. These operations pose threats to public safety, human rights, national security, and the addiction crisis that is impacting Maine and communities across our Nation.
“There is substantial evidence implicating the CCP in directly supporting illicit marijuana grow operations across the United States.” said the lawmakers. “Further, the same DHS document indicated 270 suspected illicit marijuana operations in rural Maine generated an estimated $4.37 billion in revenue, far outpacing the $158 million from the state’s legal marijuana market last year… This issue is not limited to the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Allowing illicit marijuana farms tied to the CCP is a continued threat to national security, public safety, and human rights.”
The bipartisan group of legislators is seeking a comprehensive briefing from the DOJ on several critical questions not limited to the resources dedicated to investigating Chinese involvement in illicit marijuana farms, the proliferation of these farms in states where marijuana has been legalized, the involvement of the American financial services industry, and the profits that are sent illegally back to China. The letter comes on the heels of recent reports about the surge in CCP-affiliated marijuana farming operations across the country. Just this week, Maine law enforcement arrested six people and seized more than 6,000 marijuana plants at several locations across the state.
Last August, the Delegation sent an initial letter to the DOJ asking the agency to address the illegal growing operations run by foreign governments or entities. At the time, media reports indicated that there were 270 suspected Chinese illegal marijuana growing operations in Maine worth an estimated $4.37 billion. Earlier this month, the Maine Delegation sent a follow up letter to the DOJ urging a crackdown on these marijuana farms.
The Cannabis Legalization Act, passed by Maine voters in 2016, established a regulatory framework governing adult cannabis use in Maine. The legislation specifies regulations for tracking cannabis plants and product, enforcement and compliance, health and safety data, labeling and packaging, and licensing and fees.
The full letter can be found here and below.
Dear Attorney General Garland,
We are deeply concerned with reports from across the country regarding Chinese nationals and organized crime cultivating marijuana on United States farmland. In some cases, the grow operators were also engaged in human trafficking, forced labor, drug trafficking, and violent crime.1 These farms are most commonly in states with legal marijuana programs where illicit growers try to disguise their operations in communities where law-abiding Americans live and work.2 The thousands of illicit Chinese marijuana growing operations pose a direct threat to public safety, human rights, national security, and the addiction crisis gripping our nation.3 We write to you today to inquire about efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to address this developing criminal enterprise.
Chinese nationals—including those with potential ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)— are reportedly operating thousands of illicit marijuana farms across the country.4 A leaked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document from August 2023 estimated Asian transnational criminal organizations are linked to up to 749 of these sites just in Maine and Washington state alone.5 Much remains unknown, but experts assert “the number of farms funded by sources traceable back to Chinese investors or owners has skyrocketed,” as have “the presence of Chinese owners and workers … at illegal grows.”6 Experts believe there is substantial evidence implicating the CCP in directly supporting illicit marijuana grow operations across the United States.7 Further, the same DHS document indicated 270 suspected illicit marijuana operations in rural Maine generated an estimated $4.37 billion in revenue, far outpacing the $158 million from the state’s legal marijuana market last year.8 Most of these properties were acquired after recreational marijuana sales became legal in Maine.9 In Oklahoma, a state with over 2,300 medical dispensaries, 10 over 2,000 marijuana farms are linked to China.11 According to the Director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN), “national and transnational criminals … [are] moving this product on the black market and laundering money – millions and millions of dollars – back to [China and other countries of concern], which is funding these terrorist and communist states.”12
Sophisticated Chinese-affiliated marijuana operations have also been discovered in California,13 Washington,14 Oregon,15 Massachusetts,16 Michigan,17 and Nevada.18 For example, in Colorado, a Chinese cartel bought suburban homes near Denver and grew thousands of marijuana plants in residential basements.19 Whether located in retrofitted residential homes or on farmland, state regulatory and law enforcement entities appear unable to address these potentially CCP- supported grow operations despite their significant threat to local communities across the country.
In addition to growing marijuana, investigators in Oklahoma discovered illicit marijuana growers engaged in human trafficking, sex trafficking, ketamine trafficking, illegal gambling, and international money laundering.20 In November 2022, a Chinese national murdered four people on an Oklahoma marijuana farm after a monetary dispute.21 In September 2023, Chinese immigrant workers filed a lawsuit alleging they were lured to Navajo land in New Mexico under false pretenses and then forced to work 14-hour days on an illicit marijuana farm.22 In Northern California and Oregon, Chinese, Russian, Mexican, and Bulgarian cartels hold victims of human trafficking and force them to work on marijuana farms.23 These human trafficking victims suffer inhumane conditions and are sometimes sexually abused or otherwise exploited in addition to forced labor.24 This issue is not limited to the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
Allowing illicit marijuana farms tied to the CCP is a continued threat to national security, public safety, and human rights.
We respectfully ask the DOJ for a briefing on this subject at the earliest possible opportunity, but no later than February 23, 2024. This briefing should include, at minimum, answers to the following questions:
1. Has the DOJ devoted resources to investigating the CCP’s involvement in illicit marijuana farms in the United States, to include financial support, management, and distribution? If so, has DOJ prosecuted any individuals found to have direct ties to the CCP?
2. How many CCP-affiliated marijuana farms are you aware exist in the United States? Are there others you are uncertain of?
3. How has state legalization of marijuana affected the proliferation of CCP-affiliated marijuana farms?
4. How much revenue do CCP-affiliated marijuana farms in the United States generate? How much of this revenue is sent back to China and through what mechanism?
5. How many CCP-affiliated marijuana farms have obtained state-issued licenses to grow marijuana, either directly or through a shell company?
6. How many American banks offer financial services to CCP-affiliated marijuana farms? What is the nature of these services?
7. Does the federal government need additional authorities to identify and shut down illicit CCP-affiliated marijuana farms?
This matter is critical to the safety of American communities and to national security. Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this inquiry.