Fireworks are as synonymous with Independence Day as barbecues and parades, but every pop and shriek that emanates from a private display is proof that someone, somewhere, is breaking the law.

That will change next year, when Maine stores can begin selling fireworks for the first time in years.

“Maine might as well get the money for selling them,” said Diane Shostak of Jefferson while taking in the Independence Day parade through Kings Mills in Whitefield.

The fireworks bill signed by Gov. Paul LePage last week allows the sale of consumer fireworks in all municipalities, unless a city or town votes to prohibit them. The law creates regulation for those who sell fireworks and requires a state permit and initial $5,000 fee.

That means, beginning Jan. 1, 2012, fireworks will be legal to use anywhere in Maine.

While sales have been illegal in Maine, neighboring New Hampshire has continued to sell fireworks. The temptation has been too great for many, who have scurried across the border to make their purchases, then carried the bootleg items back home to Maine.

Shostak, acknowledging she knows of people who regularly put on private displays, said repealing the ban in Maine ultimately could improve safety.

“I think that it could be a good thing,” she said.

That is the hope of Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor, who said he sponsored the bill because people in Maine already use fireworks. Damon was concerned, however, about the fact that there are no safety programs, because sales are illegal.

Damon also hopes the new industry will create jobs and generate revenue for the state through sales taxes.

“It’s like alcohol,” Damon said. “If you manage it, it works for you. It’s revenue.”

Indeed, local and state governments around the country have lifted bans recently in hopes of creating additional revenue.

A story that appeared Thursday in The New York Times cited communities in Tennessee and Pennsylvania that have eased restrictions. Only New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware continue to ban firework sales, according to The Times, and the fireworks sales hit a record $952 million in 2010.

Edwin Emerson of Augusta said Maine’s refusal to sell fireworks meant that it has failed to collect any share of that record revenue.

“Now it will,” Emerson said while working a stand for the Arlington Grange of Augusta.

Emerson, too, believes legalizing fireworks sales will improve safety. Fear of getting caught has caused those putting on private displays to act quickly and carelessly, Emerson reasoned.

“I think they should allow it,” Emerson said. “They might as well legalize it. People won’t be so careless.”

But Dale Wallace believes repealing the law will lead to more people to purchase fireworks, which could lead to more accidental injuries. Wallace, a firefighter in Whitefield, also worries about accidental fires, particularly in the fall or the spring, when the woods are dry.

“I question whether they should be allowed to do it,” he said. “I’m concerned about carelessness with the woods.”

Wallace said he hopes the state closely monitors sales and limits availability during dry periods, such as has occurred in drought-stricken Southern states.

“In the late spring or early fall, you shouldn’t be allowed to have them,” Wallace said.

Robin Chase of Whitefield welcomes the law change.

“You can’t have a Fourth of July without fireworks,” she said.

“It’s just not possible.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]


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