York residents have gone to court to try to shut down a medical marijuana growing facility in their neighborhood, the latest conflict to raise questions about oversight of the rapidly growing industry.

Questions about whether the growing facility used by nine small-scale growers is, or should be, allowed has led to complaints from local officials that the state’s medical marijuana law is ambiguous. It is the latest dispute to draw attention to the difficulty that community officials have dealing with complaints about pot growing facilities over which they have no regulatory authority.

While some are looking to the state to clarify the rules, York town officials have proposed zoning changes related to marijuana that residents will vote on in November.

The appeal filed last week by neighbors asks a York County Superior Court judge to overturn the York Zoning Board. The local board ruled that property owner Robert Grant is not violating town ordinances by allowing nine state-licensed caregivers to grow medical marijuana in separate units in his warehouse at 17 White Birch Lane.

State law bans the small-scale caregivers from collaborating or forming collectives for larger scale cultivation or distribution. But it does not prohibit multiple caregivers from growing marijuana in the same commercial facilities.

Neighbors, who say the operation has created unpleasant living conditions and public safety issues, say they believe the facility is an illegal collective. The property owner denies it. Town officials who have been caught in between say that, despite concerns from residents, it is state officials who have oversight over the issue.

“This is the first time the town has dealt with an issue like this,” said Town Manager Robert Yandow.

While new to York, the issue of multiple growers in one building has come up in other communities as small scale growers increase in number and move out of homes into commercial buildings.

The Old Orchard Beach Town Council in July enacted a moratorium on the cultivation of medical marijuana in nonresidential facilities after a local man proposed turning a former post office into a secure facility for up to four caregivers. In early 2013, some Scarborough business owners questioned the presence of a caregiver’s growing operation in a commercial building, but it was not against local or state rules.

The issue has come up in other communities around the state, too.

State medical marijuana regulators have “received complaints about alleged collectives in various locations in the state,” but they are prohibited by law from providing details to any entity except law enforcement, said John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Deb Sanderson, a Chelsea Republican who sponsored legislation that banned collectives, said cultivators who cluster together may not be collaborating illegally, but have raised questions.

“They may be flirting with a collective, but technically, when you look at how it’s set up where (caregivers) have individual access and care for and keep track of their own plants separately, they are working independently,” Sanderson said. “It’s something the (Department of Health and Human Services) has expressed concern about.”

The state has no authority to monitor sites where patients and caregivers grow marijuana, although the operations do have to be secure. DHHS does not track whether certified caregivers cultivate in residential or commercial locations.

Growing medical marijuana is legal under Maine law. Maine’s medical marijuana law was adopted in 1999, expanded significantly in 2009 and altered again in 2011.

Patients with qualifying medical conditions can grow their own marijuana. State-certified caregivers can grow as many as six plants and sell the drug to as many as five medical marijuana patients, for a maximum of 30 plants.

Maine also allows for eight regional dispensaries, which can grow the herb on a large scale in tightly regulated secure facilities. But much of the demand is filled by the small-scale caregivers, an expanding network that has fueled spinoff business for indoor gardening suppliers and, increasingly, commercial landlords.

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. Only caregivers are allowed into those spaces; no patients are allowed.

It is a fast growing cottage industry.

As of July 31, there were 1,533 registered caregivers serving 3,980 patients statewide, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program. There are 182 caregivers in York County and 298 in Cumberland County.

The total number of caregivers has more than doubled in the past year. There were 600 caregivers statewide in September 2013.

Because of state laws and patient confidentiality rules, local police are limited in their ability to look at what’s going on at the facility.

“The problem with the rules is there is no enforcement up in Augusta,” Stephen Burns,York’s community development director, told selectmen in July.

The issue in York first came to the attention of town officials earlier this year as neighbors complained about increased traffic in their neighborhood, Yandow said. After looking into the problem, Burns in April issued a notice of violation to Grant for “establishment of a medical marijuana use without approval” in violation of the town’s zoning ordinance.

Grant, of Eliot, has operated a wood manufacturing business in one of two warehouse buildings on the property since 1993. Last year, he began leasing units in one warehouse to nine state-licensed caregivers who are growing medical marijuana, according to court records. There are 13 units in the building, according to town records.

Grant appealed the decision and the Board of Appeals found in his favor, ruling the medical marijuana use is considered manufacturing and therefore grandfathered at that property. Board members said concerns about regulatory oversight and traffic in the area were within the board’s purview

Michael Briggs, an abutter to the property and one of four plaintiffs in the superior court appeal, had asked the York Appeals Board to reconsider its decision. In a letter to town officials, he described the “anguish” he goes through worrying about the safety of his family, the increased traffic in his neighborhood and finding marijuana joints on the side of the road.

“I feel like we’re just waiting for a time bomb to go,” resident Louise Littlefield told the Board of Selectmen during a meeting in July.

The court appeal filed by neighbors argues that the change of use to medical marijuana cultivation from other kinds of manufacturing is non-conforming to local zoning ordinances and has not been approved by the planning board.

Grant’s attorney, Durward Parkinson, said he and his client did not want to comment about the case.

In an appeal of the notice of violation, Parkinson said Grant did not rent to caregivers until York police told him “there were no legal issues preventing cultivation of marijuana by licensed caregivers.”

“The York Police Department confirmed there were no issues from their perspective — and that Mr. Grant could not discriminate against renting to these tenants if they provided their caregiving cards. These cards have been provided,” Parkinson wrote.

York Police Chief Doug Bracy did not respond to a request for comment.

Robert Schwartz, director of the Maine Chiefs of Police, said he and many police chiefs across the state have concerns about medical marijuana and the rules currently in place.

“The laws are very ambiguous,” he said.

Schwartz said he is working with officials from DHHS to produce an hour-long training video for police officers who encounter issues with medical marijuana.

York residents in November will vote on proposed zoning ordinance changes that would create local zoning controls to regulate marijuana as a land use, restrict where growing and processing operations are allowed and require a public approval process. It would also establish a business licensing requirement to monitor ongoing consistency with the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program, according to the proposed ordinance. The restrictions would not apply to caregivers growing medical marijuana in their own homes.

Gillian Graham — 791-6315

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian;

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