Donny Christen has been pushing his cause for a long time – more than a quarter century. After that long, most people would call it a day, but Christen has no plans to give up, not when victory is so close.
Christen has been hosting his own one-man smoke out on the steps of the Somerset Courthouse in Maine every April since 1991. Now, marijuana is within months of going legal, and the 62-year-old resident is doing it one last time.
This time around is “high noon,” he said, as voters are likely to legalize pot at the ballot box in November. With three felony arrests and a civil summons under his belt, he is ready for battle.
His may be one of the nation’s longest pro-legalization protests. But it has become far less lonely over the years. This year he said he was expecting a strong contingent of supporters, the Maine Vocals, as they call themselves.
Convincing voters to vote to legalize
Their goal is simple: to push the state’s voters across the line to full legalization. As at previous rallies, there will be little if any actual smoking, but Christen planned to hand out edibles.
That has gotten him in trouble before. He served several months in jail many years ago for doling out marijuana-infused cookies. He has been charged four times since, but cops have backed off over the last few years.
“I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t change a thing, but I thank God that he has chosen me to do what I’ve been doing,” he said. “My activism is the right thing to do, and for all the reasons that it needs to be legalized for the medicinal uses, for the agricultural uses and for the freedom issues, it’s just plain the right thing to do.”
Police honoring Christen’s right to protest
Local police said they had no plans to try to stop Christen this year. Jim Ross, chief deputy at the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department, said he opposes legalization but will honor Christen’s right to protest.
“It certainly is his right to do it,” Ross said of the smoke-in. “I know he’s always been very involved with the marijuana movement, and I haven’t heard much about him or from him lately. When the Legislature tells me what the laws are, we’ll enforce them. I’ve not seen the science to back up the claims, but it’s smarter people than me I guess that are making the laws, so I defer to them.”
The first smoke-out, held on Patriots’ Day, a New England holiday, 25 years ago, ended with a whimper, a civil fine. This time it could end with cannabis legal across Maine.
“We smoked on the stairs and the police confiscated the joints and cited us for a civil infraction,” he said. “But we paid $300 for a civil trial by a jury of our peers and waited for a year. Then the courts called us and said they lost the joints and were dismissing the case.”