By Seth Koenig
Portland’s farmers’ markets are recognized as being among the best in the country — the publication Travel + Leisure once ranked Portland’s farmers’ market the 9th best in the nation. The open-air markets are set up on Wednesdays in Monument Square and on Saturdays in Deering Oaks Park, and attract crowds looking for locally grown produce and foods.
Now, Portland’s considering a similar set-up for another niche market: Marijuana.
The City Council tonight, among many other items, is scheduled to discuss whether to allow the “New England Cannabis Farmers Market Festival,” to take place in Deering Oaks Park on Sunday, Aug. 9.
While the event would take place in the first East Coast city to nominally legalize recreational pot use, it’s not intended to be a place where people can smoke the drug indiscriminately.
The event application filed by New World Organics of Belfast calls primarily for medical marijuana caregivers to set up tables along the park’s pathways and talk to potential patients, all of whom must come with the necessary paperwork in hand proving they can legally use the drug for medicinal purposes.
Jim Burke of LaGrange and his wife, Sue, run Care by Cannabis. He said he invested about $80,000 of his savings in growing equipment and it took a year or so to grow a proper crop. Jim Burke believes that the state’s medical marijuana industry contributes about $5 million to Maine’s economy each year. (BDN photo by Gabor Degre)
The application also includes table opportunities for “entrepreneurs,” farmers and “other vendors” — as well as an information booth and petitioners seeking to legalize recreational pot use statewide — but nothing above will cross the threshold into city-approved marijuana sales taking place in a public park.
Michael Bobinsky, director of public services, wrote clearly in a memo to the council that “there are to be no cannabis sales or consumption at the event.”
There would be a festival atmosphere — with live music and sales of food, T-shirts and novelty items. The Deering Oaks roads would be blocked off to motor vehicle traffic, as well, and organizers, who are charging between $100 and $250 per vendor seeking to set up, expect the event to attract 2,000 or more people if approved.
In Maine, medicinal marijuana use has been legal since 1999, and large dispensaries of the drug to registered patients have been legal since 2009. By some estimates, nearly 600 people grow marijuana legally in Maine for the state’s approximately 13,000 medicinal users, with each grower permitted to grow a maximum of six plants for each patient he or she serves.
While estimates on the value of the state’s legal marijuana crop are hard to pin down, some very unofficial back-of-the-napkin math would put it in the ballpark of $117 million (that’s assuming each patient has an average of three plants grown for them, with the reality undoubtedly being that some have just a plant each to their names and others have six).
In Portland and South Portland, local ordinances allow for the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana as well, although those laws are in conflict with the statewide prohibition of non-medicinal pot and police in both communities have said they continue to enforce state laws.
As alluded to above, it’s worth noting that there are several concurrent movements aimed at expanding the legalization of recreational marijuana use statewide, with 2016 eyed for at least one possible referendum on the issue — if not multiple referenda.