BANGOR — The Rev. Kevin Loring, head of the Temple of Advanced Enlightenment, proposed Monday night that his church join with Bangor police and city officials to develop a plan to distribute medical marijuana to residents who have prescriptions for cannabis.
Maine allows marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes if prescribed by a physician. As part of its community outreach work, church members would like to be able to distribute marijuana in the Bangor area to people who have been advised to use the drug but cannot obtain it legally.
Loring’s preliminary proposal, presented during the public portion of the City Council’s regularly scheduled meeting, generated questions from just one councilor — Hal Wheeler. He asked Police Chief Ron Gastia his reaction to the Temple’s suggestion that police officers accompany them when they distribute the drug.
The police chief said that he did not think his department had the resources to spare an officer for the kind of activity Loring was proposing.
“I also have some concerns about the department getting involved,” Gastia said. “I’d suggest that they turn to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. There are specific criteria that must be met for people [to use marijuana legally]. I don’t believe the police should oversee it, especially if volunteers are doing it.”
In response, Loring said it would take no more than two hours of an officer’s time a week and suggested that someone might volunteer for the duty.
“The officer’s presence would be to see that no laws were broken and to ensure public safety,” he said. “We don’t want marijuana shops downtown like they have in California.”
That state has the country’s most liberal marijuana laws and allows people with prescriptions to purchase the drug from dispensaries.
Wheeler, who said he had no experience with marijuana, asked Loring what kinds of medical conditions besides glaucoma it might be prescribed for.
The minister said patients who have cancer and AIDS might be prescribed marijuana to improve their appetites and keep them from “wasting away.” Loring added the drug has been approved for use in treating depression in Australia.
He also told the council that reaction to recent publicity had been a mixed blessing.
“Due to the press coverage provided by the Bangor Daily News,” Loring said in his prepared remarks to the council, “we have made a lot of new friends and unfortunately also a lot of new enemies. Drug dealers are afraid of our temple, because we place a new value on cannabis that is not monetary.”
Outside the council chamber, Loring said that he has not heard directly from “drug dealers.” The minister said that he has heard second- and thirdhand that they are not happy with the temple’s plans and considered them a threat to their business.
The church’s next step would be to continue the conversation with city officials and police, Loring said after he left the meeting. The group also intends to reach out to Attorney General-elect Janet Mills and legislators to see how Maine law could be changed to allow the temple and other organizations to distribute marijuana to people who need it.
The Bangor-based church uses marijuana as a sacrament twice a week at Loring’s Bangor apartment and is seeking an exemption from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to use it legally in worship services. It had been holding organizational meetings twice a month at a local church where marijuana was not smoked.
The temple will have to find a new meeting place, Loring said, because of negative reactions to the church’s mission when it became more well-known after the BDN story was published. The meeting scheduled for today has been postponed until the group can find a new venue.
For information on the Temple of Advanced Enlightenment, visit www.templegreen.org.