MADISON, Maine — Friday was harvest day for Donald Christen, but unlike a potato or banana or wheat harvest, he left most of the goods on the plants.
Christen, a Madison resident who has a prescription for medical marijuana, harvested about 6 ounces of buds Friday from three marijuana plants he grew for his own use. When dried, the 6 ounces will become about 2 ounces of usable pot. That is the maximum Christen dared to cut under the state’s medical marijuana law, which limits possession at 2.5 ounces of usable pot. The problem, he said, is that on Friday there was probably three times that much marijuana on the plants that if not harvested soon, will lose potency and eventually rot. That’s a waste of valuable medicine, said Christen, who said he smokes about 1½ ounces a week to control chronic muscle spasms.
“I’m getting close to the limit right here,” he said, snipping the last of three large buds he cut Friday. The bud is the smokable part of the plant.
“I can take maybe one more small bud and I’ve hardly touched the plant,” he said. Dozens of other buds on the plants were sprouting a brownish hairlike substance, which Christen said is a sign they need to be picked.
Christen is founder of Maine Vocals and Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana, two groups that have long advocated for decriminalizing the use of marijuana. He said Maine has come a long way by legalizing pot for medical use, but laments that “the people writing these laws have no idea what they’re talking about.”
“If we can have plants like this, why can’t we harvest them when they’re ready?” he said. “It’s right here staring me in the face. How can it be OK to grow it but not to cut it?”
Christen said besides the issue of waste, the law as written would be very difficult to follow for someone without experience cultivating marijuana.
“We don’t want patients to become criminals,” he said. “That was not the intent of the voters. If I harvest more than the law allows, they could possibly take my medical marijuana rights away.”
The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee has been working on changes to the state’s 1999 medical marijuana law — which was amended in a citizen-initiated referendum last fall — for several days. Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, co-chairman of the committee, said the issue raised by Christen has not come up during recent deliberations.
“We’ve had a lot of experts with us for several days now,” Brannigan said Friday. “This is not an issue that has come up a lot in this discussion.”
The committee’s role, he said, is to adhere to the intent of the citizen-initiated bill.
“If this gentleman has a problem with [the possession limits in the law], then he should talk to the leaders of this movement,” said Brannigan. “They’re the ones who got it on the ballot and got it passed.”
Representatives from the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, the group behind last November’s medical marijuana referendum, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Asked how much marijuana patients should be able to legally possess, Christen suggested 3 pounds. He based that weight on the fact that in other states where pot dispensaries are already legal, each patient can be shipped up to 9 pounds a year. Besides, he said, 3 pounds is more in line with what six plants — which is the limit in Maine — can produce.
Asked what he’ll do with the buds on his plant that he can’t legally harvest, Christen said he’s “not going to let it go to waste.”
“I’m a patient,” he said. “There’s no way I’m going to just throw away my medicine.”