Among the thousands of gems that make up the Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network is one essay titled “Maine’s Prohibition: 82 Years in the Making.”

It tells of Maine’s long and ultimately futile effort to put a cork in what Neal Dow, Portland’s bombastic mayor and the “Father of Prohibition,” once called “a fearful enemy of God and man.”

He meant alcohol. And as the essay notes, from the domineering Dow to a federal government that tried for 13 years to separate America from its pint of brew or snort of whiskey, Mainers far and wide gave nary a hoot.

“In the home people kept booze hidden in closets, furniture, in their basements,” the essay recalls. “On the go, people kept flasks concealed on their person, or any other empty container that could hold a liquid without appearing conspicuous.”

Sound familiar?

Last week, with a fervor that would swell old Neal Dow with pride, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end to an Obama-era policy that essentially looked the other way when it came to the federal prohibition on pot.

Going forward, Sessions instructed, federal prosecutors in Maine and the 28 other states (along with the District of Columbia) where marijuana is legal for medicinal and/or recreational use should “follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions” in confronting the “serious crime” of “marijuana activity.”

All eyes in these parts turned immediately to U.S. Attorney for Maine Halsey Frank, who late Monday walked out onto the tightrope created by his boss and, brave man, avoided looking down at the ever-changing political and legal landscape below.

On the one hand, Frank said in a prepared statement, “As the chief federal law enforcement officer in this district, my job is to enforce federal law, not countermand it … I do not have the authority to categorically declare that my office will not prosecute a class of crime or persons.”

On the other, as he listed his priorities for drug enforcement, Frank mentioned “large-scale marijuana distribution organizations” as potential targets but noted that “prosecution of drug possession cases has not been a priority.”

A wink? A nod? Or was it perhaps a warning?

Good luck figuring that out.

While Maine struggles to create a workable marijuana industry in the wake of the 2016 referendum legalizing recreational use, Frank’s vow to deal with cannabis on a “case-by-case basis” offers about as much guidance as a GPS device on a northern Maine logging road.

“He’s in a tough spot,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee and hopes to meet with Frank soon. “I’m sure he would like to see this resolved in Washington.”

He’s not the only one.

Katz and the rest of the committee spent four-plus hours Tuesday afternoon hitting the restart button on legislation that was supposed to be in place when a moratorium on the retail cultivation and sale of marijuana expires Feb. 1.

But after Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the committee’s original bill and the House fell 17 votes short of overriding the veto in November, the best lawmakers can do now is to extend the moratorium – Katz already has introduced legislation to do just that – and keep plugging away at a veto-proof compromise.

That will be no easy task, although the introduction of an amendment package Tuesday by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, an opponent of the last bill, suggests the Legislature just might get it done this time.

Enter Sessions, whose rock-ribbed opposition to all things marijuana appears to be out of step with even President Trump. And Frank, who leaves open at least the possibility that the first Maine entrepreneur who attempts a large-scale marijuana farm or retail operation could end up under federal indictment.

All of this while national support for legalized marijuana sits at an all-time high of 64 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted in October.

So, now is the time to start cracking down harder on marijuana? When more than half the of the states already have deemed it legal in one form or another? Seriously?

As Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and 2012 presidential candidate, wrote on Monday in The Hill, “Jeff Sessions managed to come up with something no one was clamoring for, that flies directly in the face of the federalism Republicans love to love, and which is so out of step with a growing majority of Americans as to be laughable.”

Back in Augusta, Katz sees clear parallels between the upsurge in support for recreational marijuana and the rapid shift in public sentiment that led to voter approval of same-sex marriage here in 2012.

“It’s one of those issues, like same-sex marriage, where you can just see what is coming,” he said. “It’s just a question of how quickly it’s going to get there.”

Federal meddling and gubernatorial vetoes aside, Katz said he’s actually enjoyed crafting a common-sense statute to regulate the mass production and sale of cannabis.

“It’s a whole new industry that was illegal on one day and is legal the next,” he said. “And trying to build up something completely from scratch, to be able to work on that, is really fun as a legislator.”

If only the Department of Justice would find better things to do.

Or, better yet, if only Congress would stop ignoring the obvious and remove marijuana once and for all from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of Schedule I controlled substances (worse than Schedule II oxycodone, according to the DEA).

Back when he and his fellow lawmakers were researching other states’ marijuana laws, Katz traveled to Colorado, where recreational pot has been sold legally since 2014.

“I was walking down the street and I see three guys on a corner smoking a joint,” he recalled. “And I’m saying to myself, ‘Is this really the direction we want to go in in the state of Maine?’ ”

Then Katz flew back to Maine and headed into downtown Portland.

“And I’m walking down the street and there are three guys on the corner smoking a joint.”

It’s called the social pendulum.

Woe to those, from Neal Dow to Jeff Sessions, who stand blindly in its way.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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