Tag Archives: Maine

Pot-legalization movement seeks first foothold in Northeast

Having proven they can win in the West, advocates for recreational marijuana hope the Nov. 8 election brings their first significant electoral victories in the densely populated Northeast, where voters in Massachusetts and Maine will consider making pot legal for all adults.

Supporters believe “yes” votes in New England would add geographical diversity to the legalization map, encourage other East Coast states to move in the same direction and perhaps build momentum toward ending federal prohibitions on the drug.

“We have to get to a point where we can win legalization voter initiatives in other parts of the country,” said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a leading group in the legalization movement.

Three other states — California, Arizona and Nevada — are also voting on recreational pot. If the California initiative passes, marijuana will be legal along the entire West Coast. Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska have already voted to permit it. The District of Columbia also passed a legalization measure in 2014, but it has no regulatory framework for retail sales and possession remains illegal on federal property.

Several Eastern states are among the 25 that already allow some form of medicinal marijuana, but none in the region has approved recreational pot.

Big money is at stake, which helps explain why marijuana supporters have raised more than $6 million in Massachusetts and about $1.3 million in Maine, most from outside those states.

Analysts from Cowen and Co. issued a report last month forecasting a $50 billion legal cannabis market in the U.S. by 2026, a nearly tenfold increase over today. But such growth would be predicated on federal legalization. Passage of the November state referendums would be a “key catalyst” toward that end, analysts wrote.

Higher marijuana usage in the West may help explain why the region has been a more fertile ground for legalization, said Matt Simon, New England director for the Marijuana Policy Project, another major pro-legalization group.

“More people have direct experience with marijuana or know someone who has, and that leads to it being demystified,” Simon said.

Recent polls on the New England ballot questions, which propose significantly lower tax rates than those in Colorado and Washington, indicate the “yes” sides trending ahead in both states. Still, passage is far from guaranteed.

In Massachusetts, a socially liberal state, voters previously decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and approved it for medicinal use. This year’s initiative has met formidable opposition from politicians, business leaders, clergy and even billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who recently donated $1 million to opposing groups.

The state’s popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston’s Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh are among many elected officials fighting the idea. Their arguments include concerns that edible pot products resembling candy or other treats could fall into the hands of children, and that marijuana can be a “gateway” to far more dangerous drugs.

“The availability of marijuana for adolescent users already constitutes an environmental factor for the later use of other illicit drugs,” the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops said in a recent statement. “Its legalization will only serve to worsen this problem.”

A TV ad urging a “no” vote imagines a neighborhood overrun by pot shops and a mother shocked to see her own son emerge from one of the stores. Legalization proponents dismissed the ad as a “smear-and-fear” tactic.

“There is a puritanical streak that runs through New Englanders,” said NORML’s Stroup, a onetime Boston resident.

The Puritans lost their influence centuries ago, and the phrase “banned in Boston” is an anachronism. Yet uneasiness persists when it comes to issues that would have once been considered sinful. Massachusetts, for example, only recently authorized casino gambling and did so in a limited and highly regulated form.

In Maine, critics worry about disrupting the state’s well-established medical marijuana program.

“We want to make sure patients don’t lose access and that small growers will still be able to flourish,” said Catherine Lewis, director of education for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.

Portland, the state’s largest city, legalized possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in 2013, but the statewide prohibition still makes buying and selling the drug illegal.

Marijuana companies that have focused largely on Western states are watching developments closely, sensing new regional opportunities for investment and growth.

“The Northeast specifically is going to be a very powerful market because of the population density,” said Derek Peterson, chief executive of Terra Tech Corp., which operates cannabis cultivation, production and retail facilities.

Marc Harvill, client services and training manager for Denver-based Medicine Man Technologies, said the firm has already fielded inquires for consulting services from potential retail operators in New England should the ballot questions pass.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said.

Egg-producing factory farm focus of undercover investigation

The Humane Society of the United States on June 7 released findings from an undercover investigation at New England’s largest egg-producing factory farm that supplies eggs to several states.

The facility in Turner, Maine, is operated by Pennsylvania-based Hillandale Farms and owned by Jack DeCoster, described by the Humane Society as a notorious egg magnate whose “filthy facilities in Iowa led to a 2010 Salmonella outbreak that was the largest in the industry’s history and that sickened tens of thousands of people.”

The investigation was conducted in the spring at the complex — about 70 warehouses confine about 4 million laying hens, according to the investigators.

In the 10-unit factory farm where the HSUS investigator worked, about 450,000 hens produce 420,000 eggs each day.

The investigator found hens sharing cages with dead animals. Some of the birds were mummified and stuck to the wire cage floor, meaning they’d been lying dead in the cages for months.

• Hens confined in cages packed so tightly, the animals couldn’t spread their wings.

Hens were found trapped by their necks, wings and feet in rusty cages.

Hens were found with bloody prolapses.

Hens were found with facial abnormalities.

Hens were found standing in waste.

Equipment was found coated in cobwebs, chicken feathers and feces.

Poisoned rodents were found and cages and combined with chicken manure to sell for fertilizer.

Chicken manure build-up in barns oozed on floors.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, wrote in a statement, “The last year has seen a torrent of announcements from major companies like McDonald’s and Walmart touting that they’re starting to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs.

“As important and exciting as these corporate policies are, as of today, nine out of 10 egg-laying chickens in the United States are still locked inside cages where they can’t even spread their wings. We must accelerate the transition away from these inherently inhumane production systems and embrace a cage-free future.”

Hillandale Farms issued this statement in response to the investigative report:

“At Hillandale Farms, we take great pride in the quality of eggs we produce and have high standards for hen care and egg safety.

“When we took over management of the Maine farms last July, we were aware the barns were aging. Since then, we have invested in equipment and process upgrades to enhance our production operations, as well as expanded training for our team members.

“We reviewed the video and we are investigating the practices in the barns where this footage may have been captured to ensure this is addressed immediately. The worker who shot the video did not meet Hillandale’s standard of care and is no longer employed by us. For example, it is our practice that any mortality be removed from cages within a day.

“We have engaged our farm veterinarian, food safety and quality assurance teams to act swiftly to assure that we meet or exceed all animal health and food safety guidelines. In addition, we have reached out proactively to ask the Maine Department of Agriculture to conduct an immediate inspection.”

On the Web…

The egg industry in the United States.

Undercover investigation of a Hillandale egg farm in Maine. — The Humane Society of the United States
Undercover investigation of a Hillandale egg farm in Maine. — The Humane Society of the United States

Maine governor uses clout to adopt dog wanted by a private citizen

A woman is angry with a shelter for breaking its own rules to give Maine Governor Paul LePage a stray dog the day before the dog was put up for adoption.

Donna Kincer, development director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, acknowledged the Jack Russell terrier mix was supposed to be made available a day later and on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The governor walks in your front door and it sort of shifts things a little,” Kincer told the Sun Journal, acknowledging elected officials get special privileges over ordinary citizens at her shelter.

Kincer said she hoped for good publicity from the governor’s adoption of the rescue dog from Louisiana.

LePage is a right-wing extremist who was dubbed “America’s craziest governor” by Politico. His positions on a wide range of issues have put him at odds with the Legislature in a state known for centrism. As a result, LePage is Maine’s veto champion.

With that in mind, the governor, who refused to attend a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast and then told the NAACP on camera to “kiss my butt,” named his purloined dog Veto.

But what was a happy moment for the governor, who thinks windmills are run by electric motors, proved heartbreaking for Heath Arsenault. She burst into tears upon learning the governor adopted the dog she wanted.

Arsenault said she’d been going through an emotionally difficult time and hoped the adoption would boost her spirits. She’d already talked to shelter staff about the adoption and she’d taken the day off from work to be first in line when the dog now known as Veto became available for adoption.

“I felt like they lied to me,” she said.

Meanwhile, the governor’s family had been looking for a new dog after the death of LePage’s Jack Russell named Baxter.

The governor’s family alerted him to the dog after spotting him on the shelter website. The governor visited the shelter the day before Arsenault had hoped to adopt him.

“He just stopped in to see the dog,” said LePage spokesman Peter Steele. “He was very pleasantly surprised when (the shelter) allowed him to take the dog home.”

Arsenault says the shelter was wrong to give the governor the dog he wanted while other people must wait in line.

“No one should be given special privileges, even if they are the governor,” she said.

Oxbow Brewer makes beer with live lobsters

Oxbow Brewing in Maine is serving up beer brewed with live Maine lobsters and a dash of sea salt. 

Brewmaster Tim Adams says the lobsters were placed in a mesh bag and suspended in a kettle full of boiling wort during the brewing process.

He says the lobsters add a subtle brininess and sweetness that lobster fans will recognize. 

The beer is a saison-style beer brewed in collaboration with a brewery in Parma, Italy. It is 4.5 percent alcohol by volume and is available on a limited basis. The beer became available this summer.

Adams says the lobsters that were cooked in the brewing process were later eaten.

Portland, Maine, imposing nickel fee on grocery bags

Consumers in Portland, Maine, this week will begin paying a nickel fee for the disposable shopping bag they carry from a store.

Portland is the first community in the New England state to both impose a fee for disposable shopping bags and also to ban polystyrene foam food and beverage containers. The intent is to reduce litter and help the environment.

To date, more than 130 municipalities have imposed fees for disposable bags, ranging from a nickel to a quarter per bag.

The polystyrene bans are not as common. Freeport, Maine, also bans the foam containers and the state prohibits food service vendors from using polystyrene at state-owned facilities.

Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic. A 1986 EPA report on solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste and 57 chemical byproducts are released during the combustion of polystyrene foam. Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain — especially when heated in a microwave — that threaten human health.

Polystyrene foam dumped into the environment as litter can break up into pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems. Dumped into a landfill where trash is buried, polystyrene never degrades.

Susan Collins becomes 4th Republican U.S. senator to back marriage equality

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on June 25 became the fourth sitting Senate Republican to support marriage equality.

The announcement arrived on the same day that the Human Rights Campaign announced its endorsement of Collins. HRC is the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

“Sen. Susan Collins has played a pivotal role in advancing support for LGBT equality — from her dogged support for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to her critical vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last year, to her proud support for marriage equality,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “HRC is proud to stand with Senator Collins, and with allies on both sides of the aisle like her, because she firmly believes that every American should be evaluated based on their abilities, and not who they love.”

Collins, in a statement, said she is grateful for the support.

She also said, “And I am proud of the reputation that I have established for working with my Senate colleagues of both parties in a bipartisan spirit for fairness and equality.  I look forward to our continued work together to bring people together and remove barriers that divide us.”

HRC said for 18 years Collins has led on issues vitally important to LGBT Mainers and Americans. The group’s endorsement is based on “a solid and consistent track-record of support for a whole host of issues important to LGBT equality. It’s fair to say that without her, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ wouldn’t have been repealed.”

Also, “her support for marriage equality is further evidence of her commitment to freedom and equality for all Americans. Her leadership has been both remarkable and exemplary and she’s deserving of the support of all fair-minded Mainers.”

At Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay GOP group, executive director Gregory T. Angelo said, “On the eve of the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in favor of federal civil marriage recognition for committed same-sex couples and the day after Congressman Richard Hanna’s victory over a GOP primary opponent who challenged him because of his support for marriage equality, it seems the dam has finally broken: from local legislators to United States senators, Republicans around the country are coming to the common-sense conservative conclusion that marriage equality strengthens society and is no threat to religious liberty.”

UPDATED: Right-wing group denied emergency stay to block gay marriage in Oregon

The right-wing National Organization for Marriage on May 19 filed an emergency appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a stay any gay marriage proceedings in Oregon. And not long after the filing, the motion was denied.

A federal judge has just ruled for marriage equality, and NOM had wanted to get in line for a stay.

NOM wanted to argue that it should be allowed to intervene in the federal case. NOM also wanted the appeals court to strike down any ruling in favor of marriage equality in Oregon.

In a news release, NOM president Brian S. Brown, said the case was an “ugly example” of cooperation between Oregon’s attorney general and “the gay marriage lobby, both of whom want to redefine marriage in contravention of the overwhelming decision of the people to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The people of Oregon are entitled to a defense of their decision on marriage rather than being abandoned in court.”

In a series of rulings this past year, judges in the federal and state courts have overturned state measures prohibiting same-sex marriage and last summer the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on same-sex marriage in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

NOM alleged in its motion with the appeals court that government clerks and business people will “will face injury if marriage is redefined.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices staff issued a report concluding that NOM intentionally violated state law by failing to register or report its activities despite playing a central role in co-managing and funding a $3 million marriage referendum campaign in 2009.

The report said, “The staff views NOM’s failure to register and file financial reports as a significant violation of law. Maine people deserve to know who is funding political campaigns to influence their vote.” 

The report recommends civil penalties against NOM totaling $50,250 and that NOM be directed to register as a ballot question committee and file campaign finance reports reflecting its contributions and expenditures in support of the 2009 Maine referendum.

The commission will vote on the staff recommendation at its meeting on May 28.

“This detailed investigative report once and for all exposes NOM’s fundamental mission to secretly and illegally funnel contributions from a few large unnamed donors to its extreme political causes,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “NOM was formed to be an illegal pass-through for a few secret donors to fund discrimination against LGBT Americans. Maine’s regulators have caught on and said enough is enough.”

Over the past four years, following a complaint by Fred Karger, the Maine commission conducted the most detailed investigation of NOM’s activities to date.

The investigation included deposing Brown and subpoenaing documents. The investigation was significantly delayed by a series of lawsuits initiated by NOM intended to stonewall the investigation.

NOM appealed unsuccessfully all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in its effort to evade Maine’s public disclosure law.    

Among other findings, the 37-page investigative report found:

• NOM played the critical leadership role in the 2009 referendum campaign. Political consultants close to NOM had significant leadership positions within the campaign and NOM was by far the largest donor. The commission determined that NOM failed to tell the truth when it stated that it made no expenditures to promote the referendum other than by monetary contributions.

• NOM promised its donors anonymity if they gave directly to NOM. According to the report, “NOM intentionally set up its fundraising strategy to avoid donor disclosure laws.”

• NOM sent out a series of emails specifically soliciting contributions from Maine and received contributions sufficient to require it to register as a ballot question committee.

NOM also qualified as a ballot question committee through contributions from major donors. The report noted that in 2009, NOM raised 75 percent of its revenue from 14 major donors. Contrary to NOM’s representations, the report found that “the basic elements of NOM’s communications are known, and they indicate that NOM told major donors in 2009 about NOM’s activities in support of the Maine referendum and NOM’s specific commitment to financially support the Maine referendum.”

NOM failed to disclose these donors in accordance with state law.

Man does C-section on dead porcupine, saves baby

A Maine man in search of a valuable mineral cut open a dead porcupine on the side of the road and unexpectedly pulled out its baby.

Jared Buzzell, of Lisbon, Maine, says he was searching for wild mushrooms when he saw a porcupine get hit by a car in Minot. Buzzell says he’d heard that a valuable mineral deposit used in Chinese medicine formed in the stomachs of porcupines.

He then cut open the dead porcupine to search for the mineral and instead found the baby.

He tells WMTW-TV he cut the umbilical cord and thought the baby porcupine was dead until he started massaging it and it began breathing.

Buzzell is caring for the baby at home and plans to give it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

— AP

Mike Michaud returns to work tomorrow as Congress’ 7th out gay member

When the intensely private Rep. Mike Michaud laid bare his private life and announced he’s gay, one openly gay congressman joked that the Maine Democrat had never registered on his “gaydar.”

As he prepares to return to Capitol Hill this week as the seventh openly gay member of the U.S. House, Michaud said the decision to come out last week was a positive experience that drew support from fellow congressmen and hundreds of constituents — even if it was political nastiness that prompted his announcement.

“People know me as Mike. They know my issues are veteran issues, economic development, health care and jobs, and nothing is going to change,” he said.

Michaud, who’s engaged in a three-way race for governor, used an op-ed provided to two newspapers and The Associated Press to disclose he’s gay, saying he did so to address “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” that raised questions about his sexuality.

He said constituents have been supportive, with many finding his honesty refreshing.

Several members of Congress, including Democratic Reps. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts and David Cicilline of Rhode Island have reached out to show support, as well.

Among them was Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, who works closely with Michaud, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

“Mike Michaud is my friend and colleague. He is a strong ally in advocating for veterans and his recent announcement does nothing to change that,” Miller said.

Before Michaud’s announcement, there were six openly gay members of the U.S. House. Michaud’s sexual orientation was as much a surprise to at least some of them as it was to Mainers.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who is gay, tweeted in surprise after Michaud’s announcement that “My #gaydar missed it.” He also reached out to lend support.

“I conveyed to him that I felt it was great that he has this load off his shoulders and I know he’ll be an even more effective servant for the people of Maine,” he said.

Back in Maine, political observers said Michaud’s announcement likely won’t have a big impact on the governor’s race. Voters here approved gay marriage a year ago.

Michaud continued a regular schedule of public events after making his announcement. On Friday, the Maine Association of Police and the Professional Fire Fighters endorsed Michaud over Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the incumbent, and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.

Michaud’s sexual orientation was never mentioned.

“Mike was the same person six years ago when I knew him,” said John Martell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine. “He’s the same person today. It makes no difference whatsoever.”

Michaud, for his part, has never been one to discuss his personal life. He informed his mother that he was gay just hours before announcing it to the world.

He said he doesn’t have a partner and said his private life is “boring.”

“I don’t have a very exciting life, other than public work,” he said. When he’s not in Washington, Michaud is usually traveling the vast 2nd Congressional District to meet constituents.

Polis said he fully expects his colleague to dive back to work on Tuesday, when he’s due to return to Washington after attending Veterans Day events in Maine.

“It’s clear he doesn’t intend to make a big deal out of it,” Pollis said. “It’s done and he’s ready to get back to work.”