Portland City Council Was Right to Nix the Marijuana Festival

Monday, the Portland City Council voted 5-4 to reject the permit for a marijuana festival that was slated to be held in Deering Oaks Park in August.  The Portland City Council had originally approved the permit but revisited the issue when it became readily apparent that what they had originally voted on, and what the organizers intended to do with the event, were worlds apart.

Portland councilors revisited this event as they heard concerns from city staff and others who had learned that organizers intended to have marijuana products available, on site.  This was contrary to what councilors had thought they approved which was an event that was purely about networking between caregivers and patients.  Radio advertising and posters clearly indicated this was not the case.  Of course, as soon as I became aware of this event, after the City Council initially approved it, I was able to ascertain that information with a simple e-mail exchange with the organizer.  Somehow there was a communication breakdown at the initial City Council hearing.

For me, as a youth substance abuse prevention professional, what was even more concerning was the fact that the event would have allowed children access to this marijuana festival.  Again, with a simple e-mail exchange with the organizer, it was stated clearly to me that they intended to allow children 18 years and younger admittance to the event with an adult.  Ostensibly, 19 and 20 year olds would’ve been able to attend unaccompanied, which is incongruous with Portland’s marijuana ordinance which establishes an age limit of 21.

SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) Maine tried diligently to work behind the scenes to negotiate with the organizers on this particular aspect of the event.  Our request was simple, don’t allow youth under the age of 21 to attend, period.  We weren’t looking for the event to be cancelled, we just didn’t want to see kids there, at all.  It was a pretty reasonable and sensible request.  Much like a beer festival, this was very clearly an event that from the beginning should’ve been strictly adults-only.

Moreover, things seem to get very squishy around what would’ve been allowed around public use.  The organizers state, that smoking would have been prohibited.  But it looks like public use of other forms of marijuana would’ve been allowed by the organizers as evident by a post on the event Facebook page:

“”Smoking” specifically is prohibited in city parks and other public places, because it posses a health risk for others. However I don’t believe the city can dictate when or where a patient chooses to medicate.”

We all see the problem here right?  If you have thousands of people at this event, how do you police who is a patient and who isn’t?  How do you police who is medicating and who is consuming a marijuana edible recreationally?  Let’s not forget, whether you are smoking it, vaporizing it, eating it, we are still talking about an intoxicant.  Combined with the festival atmosphere, intentionally or not, you would be sending a dangerous, normalizing message to the youth who were allowed to attend.  Frankly, that is just unacceptable.  Again, it was pretty simple, just don’t allow kids to attend, at all.  I’m still not going to get super excited over the idea of a marijuana festival in the middle of a public park, but I’m probably not going to lose a ton of sleep over it.  But because that simple change wasn’t made, it was for the best that the city council nixed the permit.

This episode speaks to the larger issue around marijuana legalization and the notion of marijuana “regulation”.  To be frank, some of the questions that were asked at this latest Portland City Council hearing should’ve been asked at the original hearing.  From the beginning, it should’ve been explicitly asked if kids would be allowed in, if product was going to be available, if people would be allowed to “medicate” with non-smokeable forms.  That is why “regulation” is a pipe dream, and the industry knows it.  They know there will be tons of these questions that regulators won’t ask, or think to ask.  The industry will thrive in these loop holes and regulatory vacuums.  That was how the tobacco industry, for decades, were able to get away with some of the atrocious marketing schemes that hooked countless children on their products.  This marijuana festival incident is just a small taste of what would be to come if we make that mistake again.


Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.