Why this pro-legalization marijuana caregiver opposes Question 1

We are living in challenging times. It feels so easy to find a million reasons to be cynical, so few reasons to feel inspired. A couple posts ago I wrote about how all the out of state money infiltrating our political process is a font of cynicism in and of itself.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of this problematic influence hijacking our culture can be found in the discourse around Question 1 on the ballot this November. The issue of legalizing recreational marijuana has divided the medical marijuana community in Maine, which is a travesty. I came to understand the complexities of the division through conversations with a caregiver from Milo, Maine named Dennis Hammac.

Adawna Ashe (L) and Dennis Hammoc (R) protest outside the campaign office of supporters of Question 1.  Photo by Trish Callahan

Adawna Ashe (L) and Dennis Hammoc (R) protest outside the campaign office of supporters of Question 1, July 28 in Portland. Photo by Trish Callahan

Hammac calls his operation Genesis Farms, and the best possible description I’ve ever heard of him was when someone recently referred to Hammac as a “force of nature.” Truly, he is nothing less, and his passion about marijuana, medical marijuana, and the potential for the economic benefits of a thriving marijuana market in Maine is inspirational. Funny how life can be that way — in the middle of unraveling cynicism, you can sometimes find hope where you’d least expect to find it.

Hammac was among the first roundtable of caregivers I interviewed when I began looking into the push to add addiction to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana in Maine. I’ve had the good fortune to interview him many times since then as he is a dedicated activist and advocate. Hammac has personally helped eight people get off opiates with medical marijuana concentrates and reports five have stayed in recovery to date.

These interviews have been one part interview and one part shooting the breeze with some terrific people who keep it as real as it comes.

Hammac won me over right off when he described his substance abuse history as “being addicted to more.” I had never found quite the right words to describe my poly-substance abuse days until those words fell out of his mouth. Hammac calls coming to terms with his alcohol problem a realization that he was “allergic to alcohol because whenever I drank, I broke out in handcuffs.”

Besides struggling with alcohol, Hammac was a heroin addict as a teen, then a meth addict after. He jokes darkly (love dark humor!) about “kicking his heroin habit with meth.” To support his meth addiction, he cooked and dealt, ultimately landing in prison. Hammac speaks honestly and openly about the impact his addictions and prison time had on his children, and how when he got out of prison, he was determined to lead a different life.

Hammac turned to marijuana, illegally at first, but his life began to stabilize. When circumstances forced him to take on the role of single parent to his now six year old son, he decided to move to Maine from North Carolina. Hammac wanted to be able to use his medicine without being a criminal, and Maine’s medical marijuana law enabled him to do so.

Here in Maine, he can have his medicine, raise his son in good standing with the law, and on top of that, Hammac is able to earn a modest income as a caregiver. Supporting and caring for his youngest son, healing himself, healing others — these are the things Hammac values most. He found the marijuana/medical marijuana community in Maine to be welcoming and supportive; and appreciated being a part of this community.

Initially he saw the legalization of recreational marijuana as a welcomed extension of those things.

Back when there were two competing referendum questions about legalization,  Hammac favored the proposal put forth by Legalize Maine, rather than the current question put forth by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA). The Legalize Maine question proposed that 3/4 of any recreational grow licenses would be reserved for small growers, like Genesis Farms.

Eventually CRMLA and some supporters of Legalize Maine merged, and Hammac said Legalize Maine people were promised that the licensing division would continue to favor small growers. When he read the actual text of the proposal and saw that 60 percent of the licenses would be dedicated to large growers, Hammac balked and began protesting against Question 1. Hammac and other caregivers see the economic potential for a recreational marijuana market, but they worry that a focus on large growers will mean that Maine small businesses will be squeezed out of that potentiality.

Dennis Hammoc's van decorated in opposition to referendum Question 1 on the November ballot.  Photo:  Trish Callahan

Dennis Hammoc’s van decorated in opposition to referendum Question 1 on the November ballot. Photo: Trish Callahan

Given the state of our economy in the wake of major manufacturing losses, Hammac believes a thriving small business marijuana market is just the boost the Maine economy needs. He wants other Mainers create a life like his, where he’s able to support and care for his family independently. Hammac and others also worry that a focus on large growers will contribute to a future marijuana market that will look like the rest of agriculture where there’s such push and pull between larger corporate farms/agriculture interests and the average small farmer.

Hammac has other concerns about the proposed legislation including a growth canopy limit that only the legislature can change. The idea that the legislature will react in a timely fashion to supply and demand concerns does seem implausible considering how much they’ve been shirking their responsibilities when it comes to marijuana prohibition in the first place. Hammac is also uncomfortable with a stipulation that will require all growers to send fingerprints to the FBI as part of the requirements.

“Why would I send my fingerprints to the federal government saying I am doing something that is still against federal law?” he wonders. It’s a good question. I’d be a little uncomfortable with that provision, too.

I’m also uncomfortable the fact that CRMLA has received hundreds of thousands of dollars contributions, in-kind contributions, and loans from out of state special interest groups like New Approach (linked to the late Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance and his family), the Marijuana Policy Project (current executive director, Rob Kampia), and Drug Policy Action, the advocacy arm of the Drug Policy Alliance and frequent recipient of donations from billionaire George Soros.

My concern is not the “red herring” Graham Boyd head of New Approach likes to think it is, and here’s why:

These organizations should be commended for their efforts to end marijuana prohibition around the country as much as they should be reprimanded for not giving precedence to the needs and cultures of the individual states in which they operate. National organizations like New Approach, Drug Policy Action, and MPP have no vested interest in insuring that a recreational marijuana market is tailored to best suits Maine’s unique economic needs.

They also have no vested interest in understanding how small businesses have long been a cornerstone of our economy or how dire our need for economic revitalization is. They have no interest in advocating for future marijuana small businesses that could help pull our state out of its manufacturing loss doldrums.

Hammac is troubled by the extent these national interests are controlling the dialogue about ending prohibition in Maine.

As Hammac says:

It’s not just about ending prohibition — of course I am in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. Mainers need to know that the issue is more about how we end prohibition and doing it in a way that works for our state and the people who live here.

A gathering of protesters outside the campaign office for supporters of Question 1.  Photo by Trish Callahan

A gathering of protesters outside the campaign office for supporters of Question 1 on July 28 in Portland. Photo by Trish Callahan

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.