Don Christen addresses the crowd as a local news crew
interviews Faith Benedetti photo: Mike Reynolds
Patients Protest State's Handling of Medical Marijuana Investigation
On Friday, April 5, between three and four dozen medical marijuana patients converged upon the Wellness Connection of Maine's Hallowell dispensary to protest the state's failure to notify patients about its investigation of the WCM. Because of this failure, many patients unknowingly purchased and used medical marijuana contaminated with mold and pesticide residues.
The state's month-long investigation of the WCM, which has four dispensaries in Maine, revealed more than 20 violations of regulations regarding the cultivation of medical marijuana. Most of the violations involved the use of pesticides and fungicides to kill mold on the plants. During the course of the investigation, the state allowed patients to continue to purchase the tainted product.
Will Neils, a caregiver from Hope, Maine, spoke of the dangers of allowing patients to smoke moldy marijuana. Some activists at the protest said that the state knew about the mold as early as January.
A former patient of WCM, Brian Lee of Sebago, Maine, told the assembled protesters that he had not been informed of the potential presence of pesticides before the investigation began. Instead, he received a letter only after the investigation was complete. Once he learned about the pesticides, he quit using the WCM.
Lee was adamant during the Hallowell demonstration, shouting, "They're treating us like we don't know any better."
During the protest, many well-known medical marijuana activists addressed the crowd. Neils, who had done much of the organizing for the protest, spoke about how much the WCM had spent on its legal counsel. Chris Kenoyer, a patients' rights activist from Portland, urged patients to work within the caregiver system to access their medications from a safer and more affordable source. Don Christen, a veteran medical marijuana activist, passed out flyers for festivals and other happenings, and other activists announced upcoming medical and legalization-related events.
Faith Benedetti, a social worker with a long history of working with the WCM, attempted a one-woman "protest of the protest" by asserting that demonstrators might intimidate patients coming in to get their medication. However, only one patient showed up.
The Hallowell protest followed an
earlier demonstration in Augusta at the
Department of Licensing and Regulation, the agency that allowed the sale of the adulterated marijuana to patients in the state's program.
The demonstrations in Hallowell and Augusta were the largest disability rights protests in Maine in almost a decade, and they were covered by a number of media outlets. I was asked to speak and appeared in articles in the Kennebec Journal and the Portland Press Herald.
The WCM's own spokeswoman, Patricia Rosi-Santucci, is herself included in the state's 20 violations -- she was cited for not having undergone a proper background check. According to the Portland Press Herald, Rosi-Santucci was also cited for conflict of interest: She became the WCM's vice-president of marketing in September 2012 while still a member of its board of directors. According to current documents, she's now the chief operating officer. Meanwhile, her husband, Jacques Santucci, a Portland business consultant, is the acting chief financial officer, although he lacks the required identification card.
Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) recently introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana for recreational use. However, Russell's bill gives preference for licenses to dispensaries rather than individual caregivers and patients. It is troubling that an organization like the WCM, with out-of-state roots and a history of legal and business problems, might receive privileges that could be given to established Maine caregivers and patients.