PORTLAND — The Maine Marijuana Policy initiative will launch a public awareness and fundraising campaign Monday, April 20, to build support for a November ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana dispensaries.

The so-called “420” event starts at 4:20 p.m at Empire Dine & Dance on Congress Street and will include performances by several local artists, including the reggae Mystic Vibes and rock band Station 85.

The group has also organized an 8 p.m. Metal for Marijuana event on the same date at the Port City Music Hall on Congress Street. 

The 420 moniker is symbolic for marijuana advocates, since the marijuana laws currently on the books in California, which has the most sophisticated medical marijuana program in the nation, began with state Proposition 420.

In 1999, 61 percent of Maine voters approved the use of marijuana to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Patients are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to six plants, only three of which can be “flowering” at any given time.

However, the law only allows patients to possess marijuana and does not give them a legal way to buy it. 

Jonathan Leavitt, executive director of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, said dispensaries would have to obtain non-profit status under the Maine proposal. And the management of the doctor-issued patient identification card program would be conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“California is pretty unregulated,” Leavitt said. “We’re not interested in anyone making a profit off this.” 

While states take their own steps to legalize medical marijuana, the substance is still considered illegal by the federal government, which can – and has – shut marijuana dispensaries in California.

However, Leavitt’s group may have picked the right time for its initiative. The Obama administration has indicated federal authorities will not shut down dispensaries, unless they violate state and federal laws.

Also, Leavitt seems to be banking on the multitude of other, more pressing problems, such as the global economic downturn, to stem opposition to the proposal. 

“Honestly, we’re not expecting any opposition, but we will be ready,” Leavitt said. “People have other things on their minds.”

Only 57,000 signatures were needed to put the question on the November ballot, and the group ended up gathering about 80,000. 

Although law enforcement and substance abuse organizations typically oppose marijuana initiatives based on the
argument they provide a cover for illicit activity and encourage abuse, it’s unclear whether Maine groups will officially organize against the campaign.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said it’s too early to say. “I’m not saying there won’t be any opposition,” he said.

Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, could not be reached for comment. 

Debbie Dettor, coordinator of the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, said her group is only focused on helping people recover from addiction and would not take a position on whether legalized dispensaries would increase substance abuse. “That’s not something we’d get involved in,” she said. 

Although the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative is looking to raise $250,000 to $1 million for a public relations campaign, Leavitt said its polls indicate there is wide support for medical marijuana – support that crosses party, gender and generational lines. 

“We’re pretty sure (support) has only gotten stronger,” he said.

If voters approve the measure, Leavitt said dispensaries would be charged $5,000 to set up, a measure to ensure the program is revenue-neutral for the state.  

“We have a system that’s easy for everyone involved,” he said. “It will be a big step for patients to access their medicine.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected].

pns-medicinalpot1.JPGJonathan Leavitt, executive director of the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative, stands in front of Empire Dine & Dance on Congress Street in Portland, where an April 20 fundraiser and public awareness event will be held to build support for a November referendum that would give patients a legal way to access their medicinal marijuana. (Billings photo)

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pns-medicinalpot2.JPGA flier promoting the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative’s “420” event hangs in the window of Empire Dine & Dance in Portland. (Billings photo)
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