April 15, 2013

No charges for marijuana use at Skowhegan protest Monday

Activist Donald Christen eats pot cookies, displays marijuana in jar, but has medicinal marijuana prescription

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Donald Christen ate marijuana cookies Monday and produced a quart-sized Mason jar of the aromatic weed as he stood on the steps of the Somerset County Superior courthouse.

click image to enlarge

Marijuana advocate Donald Christen shows a jar of marijuana to Skowhegan Deputy Police Chief Dan Summers during the Patriots Day "smoke-in" on the steps of the Somerset County courthouse on Monday. The protest was part of Christen's continued efforts to draw attention to legalizing marijuana. Christen is a medicinal marijuana patient and can legally possess the drug.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Marijuana advocates Charles Hutchins Sr., front, and John White attended a Patriots Day "smoke in" for marijuana legalization, outside the Somerset County courthouse in Skowhegan on Monday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Police were watching, but Christen did not get arrested, nor was he summoned, as he has a doctor's prescription for medical marijuana.

"Sorry," he said, apologizing for not sharing his cookies. "If you have a card, you can have one — that's the law. Patients can now share with one another if you have a card."

A longtime founder and member of the group Maine Vocals, Christen, 59, of Madison, has argued for many years for full legalization of marijuana.

Monday marked his 23rd year of standing at noon on Patriots Day on the courthouse steps to continue his efforts, he said.

"If the Legislature changes the law this year, which is a good possibility to do, we won't have to come here and do this," he said. "This could be our last one if the Legislature does legalize."

Skowhegan police officers in cruisers parked away from but in view of the handful of pot advocates who joined Christen for the event.

Skowhegan Deputy police Chief Dan Summers got out of his car to speak with Christen.

Summers said police are always supportive of people's constitutional right to assemble.

"We're not here to infringe on anybody's rights; we just want to make sure it's peaceful," Summers said.

John White, 67, of Athens, said he believes pain medication such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are much more addictive and harmful than marijuana.

"I think keeping it illegal adds to the problem," he said.

Charles Hutchins, 46, of Canaan, said he has been self-medicating since he was 17 and now takes medical marijuana for pain, anxiety and gastrointestinal problems. He produced a medical marijuana document showing he has a prescription.

"It's a God-given herb and weed to use to our benefit," he said.

White sat on the steps of the former Somerset County Jail, now a granary, playing a guitar and singing "Okie from Muskogee," a song made popular by Merle Haggard in 1969.

"We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee," White sang. "We don't take no trips on LSD."

Christen said he uses medical marijuana because of pain in his back, which he injured in 1982 while lifting a manhole cover as part of his lob as a union laborer. He also uses stronger medicine prescribed by his doctor, if the pain is unbearable.

People are not criminals for using, growing and selling marijuana, he said.

"The law is the crime," he said.

Christen said he first started smoking marijuana on the courthouse steps in the early 1990s, when he and others were viewed as criminals. Now some legislators realize that marijuana should be legalized, he said.

"The Legislature's waking up," he said.

Christen served seven months in jail for distributing marijuana-laced brownies to medical patients at a Patriots Day rally years ago. Since then, he has faced possession and cultivation charges four times, but no charges are pending against him.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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