At a time when licensed businesses are venturing into selling recreational marijuana, Gloucester police are looking to crack down on a local resident who, based on evidence seized from his home last week, has allegedly been operating his own high-volume pot business.
Police responding to call for a well-being check on another person at a home on Western Avenue on Christmas night found more than 60 marijuana plants — over five times the legal limit. They seized the pot and are seeking the plants' apparent owner, whom they say has fled and is out of state.
Lt. Michael Gossom said Wednesday that the man, who is in his mid-20s, has not yet been formally charged or named by police.
If and when the man is apprehended, he will face charges of illegal cultivation of a Class D substance, simple possession of marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute, in Gloucester District Court, Gossom said. He will also be charged with wrongly possessing edible marijuana products and the equipment used to make the edibles from the home-grown pot.
While marijuana is now legal for recreational use and sale in Massachusetts — and Gloucester is awaiting applications from businesses looking to sell or grow pot at various zoned locations within the city — individuals are limited to raising six marijuana plants on their property for their own use, with up to 12 plants allowed per household.
The more than 60 plants taken from the two-story house at 268 Western Ave. far exceeds those numbers, even though more than one person lives at the address, Gossom said. The home is owned by Sylvia Morrissey and her family, who also own property at 6 Middle St., according to city assessors' records. The suspect is not directly part of the ownership group, police indicated.
As far as police have been able to ascertain, the pot operation appears connected to just one person living at the address. But Gossom said the operation extends beyond the growing and cultivation project going on within the 4,122-square-foot, two-story home.
"We confiscated some business cards he had made up for himself to hand out (to clientele), as if it was a business, and we confiscated some ledgers," Gossom said. "It seems like somebody kind of got carried away with what they can do legally and what they can't."
Gossom said the case unfolded after police responding to the home for the Christmas night well-being check noted a few pot plants around the house, then observed a high number of plants growing throughout the home. While Sgt. Jerry Ciolino, Officers Dave D'Angelo and Alessandro D'Angelo — no relation — secured the scene, Gossom sought and was granted a search warrant for the premises. A full slate of officers then responded to remove the plants and other materials from the home.
Gossom said he and other police believe they know where the suspect is and are awaiting his return to the city to make an arrest.
He said it's not clear to whom the suspect has been marketing the pot, especially given the apparent seller's millennial age. State laws governing retail pot establishments ban the sale of any marijuana to anyone under the age of 21.
Gossom said police are speaking with the office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett regarding how to proceed once the case heads to court. He conceded he's not surprised a resident would look to run a relatively high-volume and sophisticated marijuana business out of his home. He said he had no estimate for the street value of the pot that could be produced by the more than five dozen plants.
"From a law enforcement standpoint, I know we don't really consider it a surprise," he said. "When the law gives you a number of what you can have, I would say it's really easy for somebody to go over that number. So 12 (plants) can become 20, 20 become 40, 40 become 60 and so on. I'm not surprised at all."
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or firstname.lastname@example.org.