Thursday, May 23, 2013
PORTLAND – Visitors to Deering Oaks on Saturday may take in a little more than fresh air.
Charles Wynott, organizer of Saturday’s CannaFEST event in Deering Oaks park, displays some of the marijuana he grows at home to treat a medical condition. He has a city permit for the festival and expects 200 to 300 people to attend.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
The park will be the venue for a free medical marijuana rally and festival featuring speakers, music and vendors selling indoor growing equipment.
The Atlantic CannaFEST will run from 1 to 5 p.m. and is expected to draw 200 to 300 people. It will promote medical marijuana and include a high-profile giveaway of pot to low-income patients, to protest the prices at state-sanctioned dispensaries.
So far, city officials, police and parents who use a nearby playground are treating Saturday's pot rally as just another day in the park.
"It doesn't bother me any," said Ashley Van Vliet, 21, of Westbrook, who visited Deering Oaks on Tuesday with her 3-month-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
Maine is no stranger to marijuana festivals. Harry Brown's Farm has hosted pro-marijuana festivals in Starks since 1991. Last year, the Augusta Civic Center hosted a medical marijuana expo put on by the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, which featured an outdoor tent where registered patients could smoke pot.
There will be no such tent Saturday in Portland, because fire codes don't allow open flames in tents, said Atlantic CannaFEST organizer Charles Wynott, a 48-year-old Portland resident who uses medical marijuana to treat his AIDS symptoms.
Use of medical marijuana has been legal in Maine since 1999. In 2009, voters approved as many as eight medical marijuana dispensaries statewide.
Qualifying patients can possess as much as 2.5 ounces of pot in public. Although state law doesn't allow people to smoke it in public, Wynott said it will inevitably happen Saturday if 200 to 300 people show up.
"We'll try to keep it out of the public eye," he said.
Portland police don't plan to have extra officers on duty Saturday and will not have additional patrols in the area, said Assistant Chief Vern Malloch.
"We depend on voluntary compliance from the public for all laws," Malloch said. "We don't have any different expectation here."
Medical marijuana is illegal under federal law. The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency did not return messages left by email and voicemail Wednesday. U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II could not be reached for comment.
State Rep. Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, and Rep. Diane Russell, who last year introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, are scheduled to speak at Saturday's event.
Ten to 20 vendors will sell their wares, including marijuana growing equipment such as lights, tents and soils, in 10-foot-by-10-foot tents.
Wynott said the event is intended to connect medical marijuana patients to caregivers, and to rally against proposed new requirements for growing marijuana, including limits on the number of nonflowering plants, property line setbacks and 8-foot-tall fencing around plots.
The comment period for the proposals closed Aug. 23, said John Thiele, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services' medical marijuana program. The agency is reviewing the comments, and it's not clear when new restrictions will be enacted, he said.
Saturday's event will also call attention to the prices charged by some dispensaries.
Chris Kenoyer of Portland, director of the Maine Patients Coalition, said he plans to call attention to the high price of medical marijuana by giving away "a couple grams" of high-grade pot to 25 patients.
Patients can legally give away extra pot as long as they are not reimbursed, Thiele said.
Kenoyer, 54, who suffers from an inoperable degenerative spinal injury, said the pot will be given away by raffle. He hopes to conduct the raffle from the stage to call attention to the lack of access for low-income patients, but Wynott said that likely won't be allowed.
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