SKOWHEGAN — Close to three decades since the first one was held, marijuana advocate Donny Christen’s annual Patriots Day “smoke-in” at “high noon” on the courthouse steps in Skowhegan ain’t what it used to be.

Marijuana advocate Donny Christen smokes a joint outside the Somerset County Courthouse in Skowhegan during the annual Patriot’s Day “smoke in” on Monday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

His health failing from the effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Christen on Monday greeted just three people to join him in the rally to fully legalize all uses of marijuana in Maine.

No restrictions. No taxation.

“We want people to be free, to do what they want,” Christen, 65, said, breathing with the help of an oxygen machine. “With all the information we had back then, I figured we’d be legal within four or five years, and here we are still fighting them. It’s even legal now, but they still don’t know what to do with the laws. If there was ever a day for patriots, this would be it I guess.”

Christen’s annual rally at the courthouse is in its 29th year, having first been organized in 1991.

By not establishing recreational marijuana rules in Maine, the sale of marijuana — other than medical marijuana — would remain illegal despite a state referendum passed in 2016, legalizing adult use of marijuana.

Cities and towns are within their rights to ban or regulate recreational marijuana sales, but marijuana use technically is legal.

Advocates like Christen say that while state law does allow municipalities to ban recreational marijuana sales within their borders, doing so doesn’t mean there won’t still be people buying and selling marijuana; they’ll just be doing it illegally.

Under Maine law, municipalities may not ban medical marijuana caregivers from providing marijuana to authorized medical marijuana patients. Municipalities may, however, regulate how and where such businesses operate.

In March, the state pulled out of a deal with a Florida company to set up a seed-to-sale tracking system for retail medical and recreational marijuana – the second failed state marijuana contract in as many months.

The state Department of Administrative and Financial Services pulled out of its three-year deal with Franwell Inc. to use a customized tracking system after state lawyers warned the award could lead to costly and time-consuming litigation.

The agency says the withdrawal will not delay the timeline of the long-awaited passage of Maine’s adult-use cannabis program, which voters adopted by referendum in 2016. Going on three years later, home grow is allowed, but legal sales are not.

Robert Hardenburg smokes a joint during the annual Patriots Day “smoke in” at the Somerset County Courthouse on Monday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

A consultant was expected to submit a first draft of proposed adult-use marijuana rules to the state Office of Marijuana Policy last week, putting Maine back on track to open its recreational market by the end of this year, state officials said.

To launch in 2019, the Office of Marijuana Policy must shop its draft rules around to other state agencies, including agriculture, labor and public safety, for review and revision before referral to lawmakers in May for a legislative vote that must be held before the session ends in June.

“The recreational marijuana law has gone nowhere,” Christen said. “It’s going on three years, and we’ve managed to do it all on our own without their help. So why don’t they stay the hell out of it? If they want to tax it and make some money on it — which is all they really want — then go ahead and put the tax to it and let us self-regulate ourselves. You’re just supposed to be able to grow your own, but they can’t figure out how to get their cut.”

Joey Annaloro, 48, of Skowhegan, said he showed up Monday to support Christen and his advocacy.

“I came a few years ago and I’ve been coming ever since, showing my support every year,” Annaloro said. “No one tells you how many tomato plants you can have, how many green bean plants you can have in your garden.”

Robert Hardenburg, 59, who lives in Solon, showed up at the rally passing out homemade snickerdoodle cookies made with pot butter. He said he’s been coming since 2004.

“It’s almost legal, but they’re doing it wrong,” Hardenburg said. “They’re trying to make too much money taxing it right now. Just make it legal. They’ve already voted it in. Now the state’s just trying to make money. They’re trying to squeeze everything out of us.”

Christen acknowledged Monday that rally participant numbers are dwindling. A fourth man showed up later for the “high noon” assembly, and a couple more people sat and watched from parked trucks, but that was it.

“Back in the day, we used to have hundreds,” he said. “People are tricked by the laws the way they are, thinking it’s better now —  and it is a little better, for sure, but it’s not over yet. They think it’s over, but it’s not over. It’s been three years, and they haven’t come up with anything yet. Maybe it’s complacency. I don’t know. But I’ll be here until I ain’t here.”

 

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]
Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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