Pot lights create ham-radio buzz

AUGUSTA, Maine — Retired Coast Guard officer Roger Johnson sometimes notices a harsh buzz when he turns on his amateur radio, and he blames high-powered lighting that’s used to grow pot.

Amateur radio operators say the legalization of marijuana is creating a chronic nuisance thanks to interference caused by electrical ballasts that regulate indoor lamps used to grow marijuana.

The American Radio Relay League wants the Federal Communications Commission to take a stand against devices that give off much more interference than federal law allows in homes.

Ham radio operators generally say they don’t have a problem with pot but worry that amateur growers may not be aware that cheap ballasts can have phony FCC-compliance stickers. The operators point out that they serve as backup communication during emergencies — but concede that it’s unlikely any lighting devices would still be on if the power went out.

Johnson, one of the radio league’s 166,000 members, said he worries that interference will only become a bigger inconvenience in years to come in Maine, which recently made it legal for a person to grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, 12 immature plants and unlimited seedlings.

When he recently heard suspicious noisy static, Johnson said, he drove up and down side streets with a spectrum analyzer hooked up to his laptop to determine the source, which turned out to be a licensed grower a mile away who said he had no idea he was causing a disturbance.

“My prediction is that as more and more states legalize marijuana, the number of growers is going to increase exponentially and overwhelm the FCC’s ability to regulate it,” he said.

The American Radio Relay League has filed four complaints with the FCC and said it hasn’t heard back, and says complaints concerning alleged interference continue to trickle in, particularly in Colorado and California. Cultivation of recreational marijuana is also now legal in Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Alaska, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

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