PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments Wednesday in the first challenge to the state’s medical marijuana law.
Donald Christen, 55, of Madison is appealing his April 2007 conviction by a Somerset County jury of aggravated cultivation of marijuana. The long-time advocate for legalization of marijuana was sentenced in August 2007 to 14 months in prison with all but six months suspended and two years probation after representing him-self in the three-day trial.
He has remained free on bail pending the outcome of the appeal.
Ironically, Christen was found not guilty last December by a Somerset County jury on the same charge and a charge of furnishing marijuana, according to a story published in the Portland Press Herald. Walter McKee, the Augusta attorney who represented Christen in the more recent case, told the paper it was the first time a defendant had proved he was growing and distributing marijuana legally under the state’s medical marijuana law.
Peter Bickerman, the Augusta attorney representing Christen in the appeal of the 2007 conviction, argued in his brief that Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup incorrectly instructed the jury about the state’s medical marijuana law. Bickerman also claimed that Christen was denied a speedy trial because it took place 27 months after he was indicted.
Voters passed a referendum in November 1999 and the Legislature amended it in 2002 to allow the medical use of marijuana. The law allows a designated caregiver to possess 2½ ounces of harvested marijuana for the benefit of a patient eligible to receive medical marijuana plus a total of six plants, of which no more than three could be mature, flowering plants, according to Bickerman’s brief.
Since the enactment of the law, people have asked Christen to be their caregiver once they have received the necessary medical permission to use the drug medicinally from their physicians. Bickerman argued that Christen was following the law when Somerset County sheriff’s deputies, armed with a warrant on Nov. 10, 2004, seized 13 marijuana plants from his residence.
Christen, according to Bickerman’s brief, had the proper paperwork to show that he was acting legally as a caregiver to at least six people, including his wife, Pamela Christen, 45, of Madison, who was suffering from ovarian cancer.
Efforts last week to obtain a copy of the brief filed by the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office were unsuccessful.
Assistant District Attorney James G. Mitchell is expected to argue that Studstrup correctly interpreted the medical marijuana law and properly instructed the jury on how to apply it, according to information on the judiciary’s Web site.
A bill that seeks to make it easier for qualified patients in Maine to obtain medical marijuana will go to referendum in November. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in April rejected a citizen initiative that would have had the state issue identification cards to qualifying patients and allow licensed nonprofit dispensaries to provide marijuana to those patients.
The court also will hear arguments Wednesday at the Cumberland County Courthouse in the following cases, according to information posted on the Judiciary’s Web site:
• SBA Towers II LLC’s appeal of Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm’s reversal of a decision by the Lincolnville Board of Appeal to approve a project to build a 190-foot cell phone tower below Bald Rock Mountain. SBA has contended that the Planning Board’s decision to deny the permit was arbitrary and that Hjelm erred in finding there was insufficient evidence to compel the Planning Board to approve the project.
• Alan Knowlton’s lawsuit against the Maine attorney general and the Board of Insurance. The state is appealing a Superior Court justice’s decision that the state can be sued for monetary damages because it may have violated the consent degree it entered into with Knowlton when he was disciplined in 2005 over practices by Bankers Life & Casualty Co. of Illinois. Knowlton sued the state claiming the consent degree it entered into with the firm violated the one he had entered into with the state as an individual and resulted in his being fired.