SKOWHEGAN — Fighting off the ravages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Monday, marijuana advocate Donny Christen told an assembly of supporters outside the Somerset County Courthouse to keep up the fight for free access to pot and to work to change the laws in Augusta.

“The reason we’re here is the fact the plant’s been legalized, they say, when in fact it hasn’t,” Christen, 64, told the group of more than 30 people, bundled up against a raw Patriots Day drizzle. “It’s alright for people to have a bag of pot — a little one — but for the people who want to grow it and sell it and help the sick, it’s not over, because they’re going to try to make it three plants or six plants and people are still going to go to jail over this.”

New legislation that has passed the Maine House and Senate may soon be headed for the governor’s desk. Christen said he does not support the bill because it simply heaps regulations on regulations. He said he and his supporters want the freedom to grow and use as much marijuana as they want.

Christen, of Starks, said the reason for the protest was to “free the people” from the new “Reefer Madness,” referring to the 1936 cult film about the horrors of marijuana use.

Christen’s annual Patriots Day rally at the courthouse is in its 28th year, having first been organized in 1991. Attendees carried colorful flags and cloth banners Monday, proclaiming “Use Hemp Daily” and “A Spliff a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.”

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

Skowhegan Police Chief David Bucknam said his officers would monitor the demonstration and would respond if needed. There was no police presence Monday, as protesters proudly sparked foot-long marijuana joints wrapped in hemp paper. Others had marijuana candy and cookies, which they happily handed out as free samples.

There were older folks, cancer victims, young people, non-users and a couple of father and daughter attendees, all gathered to support Christen in what he said might be his final rally due to poor health.

One woman, Susan Randall, stood and said that “If you think that Donny’s been doing a good job in trying to legalize marijuana and fights for you,” then her listeners should support a GoFundMe page called Breathe For Don and donate money to help with medical expenses for a new portable oxygen unit to help him breathe.

One of the father-daughter support teams was Christen and his own daughter, Tara Friend, 45, of Starks, holding a hemp oil lollipop.

“I’m so proud of him — he’s an amazing man,” Friend said, bundled up against the cold in a woolen, black and red checked jacket. “I am here to support my dad. I’ve always been there to support my dad. That will never, ever stop.”

Another father-daughter combo Monday supporting full legalization of marijuana were CJ Douglass, 38, of Headie Eddie’s marijuana candy company of Fairfield and his daughter, Michaela Corson, 20, of Winslow.

“I’ve been supporting Donny since 1995,” Douglass said

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.

Scott Cayouette, 52, of Winslow, said he showed up Monday to support the freedom of marijuana use, but doesn’t use the stuff himself.

“I’m here just to support the legalization efforts. I do not smoke marijuana,” he said. “Ask anybody here. They’ve seen me at the festivals and nobody here has ever seen me smoke it.”

Debby Wallace, 60, said she was there for the same reason, but that she is a marijuana user.

“I use it for recreational and medical,” she said. “It’s legal, so I should be able to grow what I need, but I guess I can grow less now than I could before for my medicinal, and that’s pretty disappointing because I really feel it’s a good thing.

“It’s great here today. I really like to see people support a cause they believe in.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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