SKOWHEGAN — Veteran marijuana advocate Donny Christen doesn’t get around as well as he did 28 years ago when he held the first Patriot’s Day smoke-in on the Somerset County Courthouse steps.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has slowed him down physically, he said, but it has not diminished his fervor in fighting for the full freedom of pot access — medical and recreational.

As it has been for years, the rally is set for “high noon” Monday outside the courthouse in Skowhegan, at the corner of High and Court streets.

“We want people to be free and treat this just like any other vegetable or crop that’s grown,” Christen, 64, said Friday.

Police Chief David Bucknam said the Skowhegan Police Department is aware of the event and will be monitoring it.

“We will address any complaints that may arise, and if our presence is needed, we will respond,” he said.

Christen said some of the rules on marijuana use and distribution have changed and are continuing to change, but more rules are just more rules, and he’s against it.

Does Christen support legislation that may be heading to the governor’s desk soon after approval in the Maine House and Senate?

“Hell no,” Christen said. “They don’t know what they’re doing down there. It’s like the blind leading the blind, and they don’t want to listen to anyone who knows anything about it.”

The legislative committee charged with firming up the law passed by voters in a November 2016 referendum have struggled to strike a balance between providing economic opportunities for Maine residents and the out-of-state investors who want to finance the first startups, the Portland Press Herald reported this week. Lawmakers eliminated the cap on grow licenses and will give out the first licenses to Mainers who have filed a tax return in the state for at least four years.

Companies are advertising free marijuana to customers willing to pay a fee equivalent to the value of the pot in exchange for delivery, a T-shirt, a painting or even a hug, the newspaper reported. Police have taken a hands-off approach to what some describe as a legal loophole.

Not good enough, says Christen, who served seven months in jail for distributing marijuana-laced brownies to medical patients at a Patriot’s Day rally one year. Since then, he has faced possession and cultivation charges four times, but has not been charged in recent years.

“Prohibition never worked in the first place, and the more regulations they put on it, the more it’s going to force people to break the law — and they will because they don’t care about it now, so what makes them think they’re going to care about it then?” he said.

The provision allowing people to grow three marijuana plants is fine, Christen said, but it doesn’t go far enough. Anyone who has access to space to grow marijuana is not going to limit their harvest to just three plants, he said.

Christen’s views of the new legislation’s provisions:

• Prohibits use in social clubs. “That’s ridiculous,” Christen said. “It’s all right to drink alcohol.”

• Eliminates deliveries, internet sales, drive-thru windows. “Why would they do that? It doesn’t sound like free enterprise to me.”

• Reduces the number of plants adults can grow at home from six to three. “Six is not enough.”

• Imposes a 20 percent sales tax, with 6 percent going to law enforcement. “I’d say the government wants a cut.”

“All the things that they’ve said about it have been proved untrue,” he said of the decades of marijuana prohibition. “It doesn’t make people crazy. It doesn’t kill people. There’s a problem with the educational part of this, and the public needs re-education to it — especially the Legislature.”

Christen, a former plumbing and code inspector in the Madison area, said his position all along has been that prohibition and regulation are wrong and need to end “to set the people free — period.”

Christen, who moved from Madison to Starks in the past few years, has been on the courthouse steps every year on Patriot’s Day since his first protest there in 1991 — sometimes all by himself.

“Free-market enterprise will dictate the price,” he said. “Once it floods the market, which it’s doing now whether the government likes it or not, the price is going to come down, like it has. If you want to get rid of the black market, you just let free market enterprise go and the price will level off and nobody will be going to jail.”

Christen formed the marijuana advocacy group Maine Vocals in 1990 with a few dozen people. The group grew to include hundreds of members so that by the first Hempstock festival at Harry Brown’s farm in Starks in 1994 there were 12,000 to 15,000 people in attendance, he said.

He said he and Brown later parted ways and now have separate music and hemp festivals — Brown’s in Starks and Christen’s seven festivals on Carson Hill in Harmony.

So what’s going to happen at the smoke-in on Monday?

“I’m going to just educate, like we’ve been doing for years,” Christen said.

What if the weather is bad, as the forecast indicates?

“I’ll be there,” he said. “Even if I have to sit in my truck, I’ll be there.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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