I-Team: Complaints about marijuana odor on the rise, municipalities mull regulation

Love it or hate it, the odor of marijuana is unmistakable and some say there's more of it wafting through the air since the drug was legalized for recreational use last year.

STATEWIDE (WGME) -- Love it or hate it, the odor of marijuana is unmistakable and some say there's more of it wafting through the air since the drug was legalized for recreational use last year.

"You smell it anywhere you go today," said Mike Heon of Lewiston.

"It's definitely more obvious now that it got passed," added Ben Bernier, as he walked through Portland's Monument Square.

According to the Maine Municipal Association, it's one of the most common complaints about pot, and several police departments agreed.

In Augusta, police said out of 20 marijuana-related calls so far in 2017, 13 have been about the odor. Lewiston police said their calls logs show more than 50.

"I think the most thing we hear is an increase in complaints about the smell and the odor of marijuana, burnt or growing," said Lt. David St. Pierre.

St. Pierre said most come from the dense downtown neighborhoods.

"More often than not, it's a landlord tenant issue," he said.

Brit Vitalius said some of his tenants in Portland have complained about their neighbors down the hall.

"It was bothering them and it was in the morning and they didn't want their apartment to smell like weed, like someone was getting high," Vitalius said.

As president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, Vitalius said he's not alone.

"It's incredible," he said. "I mean, down the hall, outside the building and you can smell it. So, at what point does smell rise to the level of being a nuisance?"

It's a complicated question, and one Maine's cities and towns will likely have to tackle.

The legalization bill recently vetoed by Governor LePage, largely left individual municipalities to deal with odor control at marijuana establishments and homes.

"It's definitely a quality of life issue," said Matthew Sturgis, the town manager in Cape Elizabeth.

He said it's an issue he's very much aware of.

"One neighbor may say, 'You're impacting me adversely and maybe also impacting adversely the value of my property,'" Sturgis said.

The City of Denver requires all grow facilities and product manufacturing businesses to submit an odor control plan. Their latest ordinance says five complaints about a facility within 30 days will also trigger enforcement.

Here in Maine, the City of Sanford drafted an ordinance establishing standards for home cultivation, which was submitted to the state as part of testimony on the legalization bill.

In it, the city limits the area on each property that can be used to grow marijuana and says odor can be considered a public nuisance if it is "disturbing to people of normal sensitivity" or leads to more than three responses from law enforcement in a one-year period.

"And that may be the way to go about doing it, similar to noise complaints," said Sturgis.

Sturgis hopes communities will also be able to address odor through land use.

"Some things may be allowed, some things may not be allowed based on the size of the lots, based on the composition of the neighborhood," he said.

These local decisions are being delayed until the state adopts regulations, so for now that stench on the street is here to stay.

When it comes to rental properties, Vitalius said landlords can ban all smoking including marijuana and medical marijuana.

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