Sam Putnam, an employee at Awear in Portland, talks about the first day of legal marijuana in Maine. "It's nice not to have to worry," Putnam said. "People are more comfortable now than they were before."

Sam Putnam, an employee at Awear in Portland, talks about the first day of legal marijuana in Maine. “It’s nice not to have to worry,” Putnam said. “People are more comfortable now than they were before.” Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Marijuana users and some businesses that cater to them cheered the arrival of legal marijuana in Maine on Monday, even as one Portland celebration event had to revamp its plans because of confusion about what is and is not allowed.

An “End of Cannabis Prohibition Party,” a private, invitation-only event Monday night at Turf’s Sports Grill in Portland, originally had intended to allow people to trade and consume marijuana. But Portland police informed organizers Monday afternoon that trading and consuming marijuana at the event would be a violation of the law because it is technically a public space.

“The Portland Police Department called me and said it was illegal to give out samples. They threatened to revoke my liquor license and arrest the organizers,” said Jim Grattello, owner of Turf’s, which is located on Warren Avenue.

Organizers went ahead with the celebration Monday night after receiving assurances from police that there would be no trouble if marijuana consumption and smoking was banned on the property.

“It symbolizes the confusion of all the rules and trying to develop them essentially as we go,” Vern Malloch, Portland’s assistant police chief, said of the End of Cannabis Prohibition Party. “These (organizers) have been very compliant and very cooperative. They’re not trying to hide anything. There’s just confusion around (the law). I know there is for us.”

A crowd of about 200 people filled the pub’s Gold Room, a comedy club that also is rented out for private parties and functions.

Party organizers provided a full buffet, live comedy and a cash bar with liquor and beer. But, no one was smoking pot inside the bar or outside, and Grattello posted signs throughout his business that warned, “State law: no marijuana allowed in public places.”

“There is absolutely no product in the building,” Grattello said.

Sherri Bukovskey of Gray, left, Paul McCarrier of Knox and his girlfriend, Carole Quigley of Monroe, applaud a speaker at Monday night's "End of Cannabis Prohibition Party" at The Gold Room in Portland. Police told the event's organizers Monday afternoon that trading and consuming marijuana at the event would be a violation of the law because The Gold Room is a public space.

Sherri Bukovskey of Gray, left, Paul McCarrier of Knox and his girlfriend, Carole Quigley of Monroe, applaud a speaker at Monday night’s “End of Cannabis Prohibition Party” at The Gold Room in Portland. Police told the event’s organizers Monday afternoon that trading and consuming marijuana at the event would be a violation of the law because The Gold Room is a public space. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The food served at the party did not contain edible cannabis, even though organizer Marc Shepard said he had planned to offer small novelty samples to party-goers.

The event invitation described the party as a gathering of cannabis industry leaders and advocates who would provide updates on Maine’s medical marijuana program and how to protect it, as well as home cultivating tips from local growers. It also said there would be “a spread of tasty foods and even tastier edibles from the best cannabis confectioners.”

Admission was $20 and no one younger than 21 was allowed to enter the Gold Room.

“There was going to be a sampling component until the police intervened,” said Shepard, who is associate publisher of the Portland Phoenix, and co-founder of the New England Cannabis Convention. The convention will be held in Portland in October. “We just dropped it.”

Shepard said the admission charge helped cover the cost of the room rental, entertainment and catering. Event organizers were not providing any edible marijuana products, but Shepard originally said some people attending the party might bring some to share.

David Boyer, Maine’s Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, was disappointed to learn about the police action.

“It raises some red flags for us. Baking (pot) brownies in a home shouldn’t be a crime,” Boyer said.

Boyer told the crowd that he just became aware of a “concept bill” in the Legislature that seeks to repeal the state’s new marijuana law.

“The campaign continues,” Boyer warned. “The Legislature wants to get rid of our right to possess and grow marijuana.”

Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, said he has introduced a bill that would repeal the state’s new marijuana law.

“I am working on a bill to repeal the law, to put it out to referendum again,” Cyrway said late Monday evening. “People were not well-informed enough when they voted for this law. I’ve seen the effects of marijuana and how it can destroy families.”

The bill is still under development and has not left the Revisor’s Office, but Cyrway is optimistic that his bill will gain traction among his colleagues.

“Today has been really exciting,” said Erick Garcia, store manager of Grow Life, an indoor gardening store on Forest Avenue. “We’ve had a lot of new faces coming in the store.”

“Today has been really exciting,” said Erick Garcia, store manager of Grow Life, an indoor gardening store on Forest Avenue. “We’ve had a lot of new faces coming in the store.” Staff Photo by Gregory Rec

His ultimate goal would be to have the Legislature approve the bill, and have the marijuana law repeal placed on the November 2017 ballot as a referendum question.

Cyrway is a deputy sheriff who represents several towns in northern Kennebec County, including the city of Waterville.

Maine is now one of eight states, plus Washington, D.C., to allow adults over the age of 21 to use, cultivate, possess and give away marijuana. The new law, passed in a citizen referendum in November, also legalizes retail sales, but the state Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage delayed implementing that portion of the bill for another year to give agencies more time to draft the rules.

Merchants in Portland who sell glass pipes and growing supplies were excited that the new law has taken effect. Both groups expect to see an uptick in business.

“Today has been really exciting,” said Erick Garcia, the manager of Grow Life, an indoor gardening store on Forest Avenue that has seen rising demand for equipment to cultivate marijuana. “We’ve had a lot of new faces coming in the store.”

Garcia said Grow Life was busy Monday with people looking for information about equipment needed to cultivate marijuana at home for personal use, and that the store will be launching a promotional campaign in February geared toward budding marijuana growers.

As of Monday, adults over the age of 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and use it on private property. It’s still illegal to use it in public or in a vehicle or to operate a vehicle under the influence of pot. The law also allows adults to grow up to six mature plants, 12 immature plants and an unlimited amount of seedlings for private use. Each plant has to be labeled with a tag with the grower’s name and driver’s license or state ID number.

Staff at Awear on Fore Street in Portland were excited about the change in Maine law. When they opened 18 years ago, the store mainly sold T-shirts, but now also sells glass pipes that can be used to smoke marijuana. Employee Sam Putnam, 21, said they used to keep their glass pipes in a case underneath a desk and only showed them to people who were “cool.”

Up until Monday, employees had to be careful about how they described their products. If they were marketed as pot pipes or bongs, they were breaking the law, although water pipes were fine.

Awear now displays $15,000 glass bongs in its storefront.

“It’s nice not to have to worry,” Putnam said. “People are more comfortable now than they were before.”

Both Putnam and Garcia are medical marijuana users. Both planned on celebrating the new law Monday night.

“I celebrate every night, to be honest,” Putnam said.

Garcia said he’s happy that other people can now use and carry marijuana.

“I’ve always believed everyone should have access,” he said. “I’ll definitely be celebrating with friends tonight.”

Early Monday, Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin suggested the prohibition party would violate state law because the Gold Room is a public place. He said if Portland police believe the law is broken by the Gold Room, the department would report it to the proper state authority. He said a business with a liquor license that violates the law could face fines and liquor license revocation.

By Monday afternoon, Malloch, Portland’s assistant chief, said they confirmed with the state that the Gold Room is considered a public space because it is licensed by the state to sell alcohol, and that consumption of marijuana would be illegal there.

“They’re a public place,” Malloch said. “You can’t get around that by charging admission or anything like that.”

Shepard, the event organizer, said having marijuana available was not the primary goal of the event. If it had been, they would have charged more than $20 a ticket, he said.

“This isn’t a cannabis consumption party or a get high party. This is a celebration of the victory and we’re going to have lots of speakers,” Shepard said a few hours before the party started. “It’s really a call to action for all of these people interested in legalization to make sure they understand the work isn’t done.”

Shepard said organizers consulted several attorneys about whether their original event was legal and received “massively varying opinions.”

“There is a lot of ambiguity and it is difficult to make decisions. … There needs to be clarity for people who want to move forward in a legal manner.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

Randy Billings can be contacted at:

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Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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