Pubdate: Sat, 02 Jun 2001
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: David Hench, Portland Press Herald Writer


POWNAL -- A group that employs civil disobedience to push for legalizing 
marijuana plans to defy the local government and hold a concert and rally 
despite being denied a permit.

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday denied Maine Vocals' plans to hold a 
concert the fourth weekend of June at Andy Jordan's field, a festival that 
organizers said could draw triple the town's population of 1,300.

Now the founder of the group says he plans to go ahead with the Cumberland 
County Hemp Festival later this month, asserting the right to free assembly 
guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

"We never give up. This is ridiculous. Now instead of fighting for our 
rights on the cannabis end of things . . . now we're fighting for freedom 
of speech and the right to gather," said Don Christen, founder of Maine 
Vocals. The group has said it planned to charge $30 a person to raise money 
to advance its political agenda.

Andy Jordan, the landowner who planned to host the festival for financial 
reasons, could not be contacted Friday. But Christen said his decision to 
hold the event should not affect Jordan because the Maine Vocals already 
have a lease for the property covering those days.

Meanwhile, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office is making plans to deploy 
deputies that weekend just in case thousands of people do descend on the 
rural community.

"This is like a Phish concert without the Phish," said Sheriff Mark Dion, 
referring to the popular Vermont band that has held huge concert gatherings 
at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone.

The mass-gathering dispute with the town is a civil issue, said Dion, and 
he is wary of interfering with someone's rights of assembly and expression.

"Some residents of Pownal hope I can put an end to it before it even 
starts, but going back to the constitutional issue, I may not be able to do 
that," he said. "I took an oath to protect those rights.

"But we also could have a lot of impaired individuals who could engage in 
behaviors or activities that have an adverse impact on neighbors and the 
town as a whole and I have an equal responsibility to protect those 
interests, and I will," he said.

Residents and town officials worry that traffic, trespassing and campfires 
could lead to problems outside the festival grounds.

Dion plans to meet with District Attorney Stephanie Anderson to determine 
ahead of time what kinds of offenses could produce arrests that will lead 
to court prosecution.

"I want some agreement of what would be appropriate police response to 
their political expression, since it might involve the use of controlled 
substances," he said. Police have historically ignored the recreational use 
of marijuana at events staged for the purpose of drawing attention to 
legalization efforts.

Dion also said he will work with prosecutors on what pre-emptive actions 
his deputies can take to limit the size of the gathering.

Dion supports the legal medical use of marijuana, though he opposes its 
recreational use.

Maine Vocals has been holding annual summer concerts in the Somerset County 
town of Starks since 1990 with relatively few problems. It planned to add 
the Pownal concert to take advantage of the greater population in southern 
Maine, Christen said.

Sue Mack, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said there were a 
half-dozen reasons why the board felt the Maine Vocals' plans did not meet 
the requirements of the mass-gathering ordinance, which is designed to 
protect the health, safety and welfare of the town's residents and 

The reasons included parking issues and a restriction on mass gatherings of 
this type in the rural zone. She was not sure whether there were other 
areas that did allow the activity.

None of the board's reasons for denying the concert had anything to do with 
the group's political goals, she said. "I believe we had a very open and 
fair hearing. I thought we bent over backward to make it a fair process," 
she said of Tuesday night's meeting, which drew a small crowd of Pownal 
residents concerned about the planned concert.

"When we denied it, I think everybody in that room was satisfied that we 
had done a good job."
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