Senator Collins Questions FBI Director Wray on China’s Involvement in Illegal Marijuana Grow Operations in Maine

Director Wray:  “But we are starting to see… more ties between a lot of these growing operations and Chinese organized crime.”

Opening remarks: Click HERE to watch and HERE to download

Q&A with FBI Director Wray: Click HERE to watch and HERE to download.

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2025 budget request for the FBI yesterday, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on potential involvement of the People’s Republic of China in illegal marijuana grow operations in Maine and elsewhere.

During her opening statement, Senator Collins said:

Just this past Thursday, the Somerset County Sheriff's Office shut down a growing operation in a house that contained 1,500 recently harvested marijuana plants, more than 30 pounds of processed marijuana, and illicit drug related materials—all of which were seized.  This particular growing operation was located adjacent to a daycare center.  The Attorney General has committed to having the Department of Justice more actively involved, along with other federal agencies, in helping state, county, and local law enforcement in Maine.

Below is the full transcript of their exchange.

Senator Collins said:

Director Wray, I want to follow up on my opening statement about the proliferation of illegal marijuana operations in the State of Maine, in rural houses all over the state.  This is a serious problem, and our county, state, and local law enforcement have been working with federal officials, but they are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task.  Barely a day goes by that our sheriffs don't lead another operation to close down one of these growing operations.  And by the way, the houses are full of black mold, and will never be habitable again.  So, that is also of great concern. 

What is the FBI's theory about why Chinese nationals or Chinese transnational criminal organizations are setting up these illegal marijuana growing operations in states like Maine?

Director Wray replied:

So, it's something we have a number of investigations into, as you might imagine.  I guess, speaking in my sort of intelligence agency leadership role, we don't yet see, but we're obviously investigating, any direct ties between these grows and say, the Chinese government itself.  But we are starting to see, as we unpack this more, more ties between a lot of these growing operations and Chinese organized crime.  And as to why they might be viewing the United States, rural communities, et cetera, as an attractive market for this kind of activity, at the moment, our assessment is that it's a combination of the fact that it is activity that can be done relatively cheaply, and by comparison to other drugs in the United States, the consequences that they face from a legal perspective are not as severe as that they might be in other countries where they might also want to operate.  So, it makes for an attractive business proposition, if I can speak that blandly about it.  So, we think that's what's going on. 

We're continuing to investigate this.  I'm very sympathetic to our state and local partners.  You're right, that we're seeing it in rural communities.  We're even starting to see some of this creeping into tribal lands, for example, around the country.  So, it's an emerging concern, for sure.  But that's what I can say on it right now, I guess.

Senator Collins continued:

Thank you.  Just one theory that I've heard is that these Chinese transnational criminal organizations are using it as a money laundering operation to bring more fentanyl into the country, which is, of course, the last thing that we need.  So, I hope the FBI will continue its cooperation in the State of Maine with state, local, and county officials, as well as with your other federal partners like DEA, and DHS, IRS, et cetera.


Senator Collins has long led efforts to crack down on the illicit Chinese marijuana growing operations in Maine.  In response to concerns raised by constituents in 2022, Senator Collins sent a letter to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director requesting state authorities to look into the matter.  Since then, Senator Collins and the Maine Delegation sent letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in August 2023 and January 2024.  In the fall of 2023, she received a briefing from the U.S. DEA Administrator on the agency’s efforts.  Earlier this year, Senator Collins joined a bipartisan, bicameral letter sent to Attorney General Garland requesting a briefing on the Department of Justice’s efforts to address the illegal growing operations.  At the annual worldwide threats open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March, Senator Collins questioned FBI Director Wray on the FBI’s efforts to support state, local, and county officials in combating this criminal activity.  In April, she questioned Attorney General Garland at an Appropriations hearing on what federal law enforcement is doing to support the efforts of state, county, and local law enforcement.  Senator Collins also questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May on the Government of China’s potential involvement.