After asserting for two days that a medical marijuana festival would go on despite the Portland City Council’s denial of an amended permit, organizers late Wednesday appeared to acknowledge that it’s unlikely to take place.

A post on the Facebook page of the New England Cannabis Farmers Market said organizers were informed by the city Wednesday afternoon that “the city manager will not be granting the required revocable permit” for the event.

“We are certainly disheartened by Portland’s decision,” the post said, without saying outright that the festival had been canceled. “We will be contacting all vendors and participants personally to update you, answer questions and address any concerns.”

Earlier Wednesday, the group was telling supporters that the Aug. 9 event in Deering Oaks park would still take place.

Not so, according to City Hall.

“Indeed, the festival will not be happening,” City Manager Jon Jennings said Tuesday, a day before the city formally notified organizers.

New World Organics of Belfast had received council approval last month to hold the New England Cannabis Farmers Market, which was presented as a free event for medical marijuana caregivers and others to network and share information. However, after advertisements revealed there would be a $10 entrance fee and suggested that marijuana might be sampled, the city brought the organizers back before the council Monday to consider an amended permit and clarify that no marijuana products would be sold, smoked or otherwise ingested at the event.

Ultimately, the council denied the request to allow an admission fee in a 5-4 vote, and city administrators revoked the permit.

On Wednesday, city staff directly informed organizers that the event had been canceled because of, “among other things, the council’s vote on Monday night, misrepresentations regarding the sale of marijuana at the festival, and the potential for those misrepresentations to lead to enforcement issues and threats to public safety.”

City officials also asked organizers to notify participants and the general public that the event will not happen.

One longtime medical marijuana advocate said the botched effort could be a blow to a movement that has otherwise been embraced in Portland, which hosted a previous medical marijuana festival without incident.

“I wanted this thing to happen,” said Charlie Piefer-Wynott, a medical marijuana advocate for 25 years who organized an event in 2012 but wasn’t involved in the current effort. “If it doesn’t happen right, it puts us back 10 years.”

In a Facebook post at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, organizers had maintained that the council only refused to allow an admission fee and that the previous permit to hold a free event remained valid. The post also criticized media reports about the entire festival being canceled.

“The ‘No’ vote was to our amendment request. It will be a free festival after all,” organizers said. “We are resolving the issue with the misinformation and will report an update tomorrow.”

Justin Olsen, a festival organizer, declined to comment Wednesday on the cancellation or whether the group will try to appeal the decision.

Organizers have said the goal of the event, which would have included live music, was to give patients a safe, public place to meet caregivers so they find a medical marijuana supplier they are comfortable with. It also would increase transparency, they said, by allowing non-patients and skeptics to learn more about the industry by talking to providers, patients and doctors.

Radio ads suggested that doctors would be available at the event to consult with people who were not registered patients. And a poster advertising the event said there would be “hundreds of strains, buds, tinctures, ointments, concentrates, edibles, clones, live glass-blowing, music, cannabis testing and more!”

Olsen told the council that the testing was a scientific lab test – not a taste test – to determine the safety of marijuana, in terms of its THC content.

Several people have posted on the group’s Facebook page about whether they would be allowed to purchase or consume marijuana without smoking it.

“Smoking is prohibited in all public places, whether it’s cannabis or tobacco,” organizers said in a July 19 post. “However, tinctures, concentrates, edibles and such are fine. Unfortunately, no, sales of cannabis will not be allowed in the park.”

Although Maine has legalized medical use and Portland voters have supported legal recreational use, any use of the drug in public places remains illegal under local, state and federal law. Portland police have continued to enforce state marijuana laws prohibiting recreational use and possession.

Piefer-Wynott, 51, said organizers should have been more sensitive to the concerns of the council, whose original approval was predicated on the promise that no marijuana would be consumed during the event.

“It really did (hurt the movement). It puts a spotlight on us again,” he said. “(The city is) going to scrutinize us and it’s going to make it that much more difficult for us.”

The event would have been the second pro-marijuana event in Deering Oaks in recent years, but the first since residents passed a city ordinance in 2013 that made Portland the first East Coast city to vote in support of legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

In 2012, the city park hosted the Atlantic CannaFEST, which drew about 200 people and was meant to promote medical marijuana and protest the prices being charged at state-sanctioned dispensaries. During that four-hour event organized by Piefer-Wynott, marijuana was given away to low-income patients. Police didn’t report any problems at that event.

Maine voters first legalized marijuana for medical use in 1999, and significantly expanded the law a decade later by adding a system of drug dispensaries and medical marijuana caregivers.

Advocates have since launched two separate campaigns to gather signatures on petitions to legalize the recreational use of marijuana statewide through a citizen referendum.


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