Marijuana activist protests state’s pot laws for 23rd year in a row

Donald Christen (left) holds a jar full of medical marijuana as he protests marijuana laws for the 23rd straight year outside Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday. Charles Hutchins of Canaan (right) also protested outside the courthouse.
Alex Barber
Donald Christen (left) holds a jar full of medical marijuana as he protests marijuana laws for the 23rd straight year outside Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday. Charles Hutchins of Canaan (right) also protested outside the courthouse. Buy Photo
Posted April 15, 2013, at 6:24 p.m.
John White of Athens plays Bob Dylan songs on his  acoustic guitar as a small group protests marijuana laws across the street in front of the Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday.
Alex Barber
John White of Athens plays Bob Dylan songs on his acoustic guitar as a small group protests marijuana laws across the street in front of the Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday. Buy Photo
Donald Christen of Madison holds a jar of medical marijuana as he protests marijuana laws for the 23rd straight year outside Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday.
Alex Barber
Donald Christen of Madison holds a jar of medical marijuana as he protests marijuana laws for the 23rd straight year outside Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday. Buy Photo
Donald Christen (left) eats a marijuana filled cookie as a Skowhegan police cruiser sits across High Street outside Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday. Charles Hutchins of Canaan (right) joined Christen as he protested marijuana laws for the 23rd consecutive year outside the courthouse.
Alex Barber
Donald Christen (left) eats a marijuana filled cookie as a Skowhegan police cruiser sits across High Street outside Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan on Monday. Charles Hutchins of Canaan (right) joined Christen as he protested marijuana laws for the 23rd consecutive year outside the courthouse. Buy Photo

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — For 23 years, Donald Christen has stood outside Somerset County Superior Court on Patriots Day to protest marijuana laws in the state.

He hopes this year is the last time he has to protest.

Late last month, 35 legislators co-sponsored a bill that would legalize recreational use of marijuana and regulate it like the alcohol industry. The bill is headed to a legislative committee hearing.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, would make major changes to Maine’s drug law, ranging from making possession of up to 2.5 ounces of pot legal to imposing a tax of $50 per ounce. It was referred to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on March 27.

“If it’s legal here in a few months because the Legislature takes care of it, then I’m done,” Christen said on Monday. “I’m going to be celebrating rather than [protesting].”

Christen, 59, of Madison was joined by five others on the courthouse steps as at least three Skowhegan police vehicles made routine visits along Court and High streets.

“We’re always supportive of anyone’s right to assemble,” said Dan Summers, Skowhegan’s deputy police chief, who stopped by and shook Christen’s hand. “The way the Maine law is regarding medical marijuana use, everybody realizes that it is a civil violation for smoking in a public place. We’re not here to infringe upon anybody’s rights. We just want to make sure that it’s peaceful and I appreciate you coming out.”

Christen, who said he is a medical marijuana patient, had a jar full of Chemdog marijuana with him and was eating cookies filled with marijuana.

“This is very good for pain,” he said as he opened the jar to allow reporters to smell the pungent odor of the marijuana. “It doesn’t say you can’t have your medicine in public like you can have your prescription vial. You just can’t give it away [to people who aren’t medical marijuana patients].”

Christen said he was jailed for seven months for passing out brownies to medical marijuana patients during a previous protest. That law has changed, he said, and medical marijuana patients can share marijuana.

He said he hurt his back in 1982 after lifting a manhole cover while on the job. He has prescriptions from other drugs, including oxycodone, but prefers not to use it. Instead, he chooses marijuana.

Charles Hutchins of Canaan, who was protesting with Christen, said he would like to see the bill pass because of his interest in hemp, a different variety of the same species of plant as marijuana.

“[We could] make our own hemp products,” he said. “Hemp’s a very good fiber and very useful.”

Christen’s objective has nothing to do with medical marijuana, he said. He wants marijuana to be decriminalized.

“If [the proposed bill in the Legislature is] going to stop people from being arrested and put in jail … then that’s a pretty good big step,” he said. “Which is the number one thing that needs to change because people are not criminals for using, selling, growing marijuana. Period. The law is the crime.

“I want it legal. Period,” Christen said.

Summers said he is not against medical marijuana use, but stressed police officers must uphold the law and let the courts decide.

“We have an issue in the state where it becomes an issue of enforcement, and it’s not clear-cut,” said Summers. “What does the Legislature want us to do? The feds have laws against it. The state has laws for it.

“Whatever the laws are, the police are right there to see that they’re enforced,” Summers continued. “We have an obligation [to enforce] federal laws and state laws.”

A dispatcher at the Somerset County communications center said there were no arrests at the courthouse for marijuana violations on Monday.

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