Prominent Maine marijuana activist Don Christen, 51, of Madison, was indicted Tuesday on two counts of aggravated marijuana trafficking and one count of aggravated cultivation. The indictment comes on the heels of a December raid on his home, which had served since October as the Medical Marijuana Distribution Center. Christen told the Bangor News at the time of his arrest that he was providing marijuana to patients who had their doctors' approval as permitted under a 1997 state medical marijuana law.
Somerset County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Carl Gottardi, who arrested Christen, was sympathetic -- to a degree. "If, for example, a doctor allows that a patient should have marijuana, where do they get it?" Gottardi said after the December bust. Gottardi, who heads a drug eradication team, said the team is "fully aware that there are people with serious medical conditions that allow certain people to qualify to possess a certain amount of marijuana. We take that into consideration and we don't go around raiding people who have slips from their doctors."
Still, Gottardi said, Christen needed to be busted. "We are not after Don Christen because he is supplying people with medical conditions. He violated the law. We don't make up the laws. We enforce them," he added.
Christen said he was supplying marijuana to five patients, including his cancer-stricken wife, Pam. Gottardi chivalrously did not arrest Pam Christen, he said. "Mrs. Christen obviously does have a serious illness. I can feel for that in my heart. And she was not charged with anything." Pam Christen was unimpressed with Gottardi's chivalry. "I am a cancer patient, undergoing chemotherapy which all [drug] agents acknowledged prior to entry to my home," she said. "They had no regard for the Medical Marijuana Law whatsoever and no compassion for me as they left me nothing to medicate with, all fully well knowing that I was sick as hell and would be miserable soon without it."
Another Maine resident, Carroll Cummings, also received medical marijuana from Christen. "I was charged recently -- Oct. 13, 2003 -- for possession of a usable amount of marijuana and the charges were dropped once I provided evidence that I met all the requirements set forth in the Medical Marijuana Law," she told the Bangor News. "Though the Marijuana Law does help me, if you study it thoroughly you will find it lacks provisions for me to acquire my medicinal marijuana. Thus, to protect myself from buying from an undercover DEA agent or one of their informants, and due to the fact our state legislators have failed to pass any type of legislation that allows for distribution, I had to take it upon myself to find someone willing to take the chance and provide me with my medicine when I need it. I found the person I believed I could trust, Donald Christen, a friend for nearly 15 years."
Cummings said that his notarized doctor's permission was hanging on the wall of Christen's home right next to the front door, along with similar notes from four other people. The Maine law allows patients to grow six plants, Christen said. He was arrested for growing 13 plants, but maintains that he was providing medicine for all five and should have been able to grow up to 30 plants.
But none of that stopped Somerset County prosecutors from seeking and winning his indictment Tuesday. That will come as little surprise to those familiar with Christen's contentious history with local law enforcement. In addition to several previous marijuana arrests, Christen is well-known as a founder of the Maine Vocals, a marijuana reform group that sponsored an annual Hempstock festival, leading to a series of clashes with local prosecutors, who consider him a nuisance and a gadfly.
Now, Christen is looking at hard time for standing up for his beliefs. And a group of Maine medical marijuana patients are out of luck.