Former Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant has always been vehemently opposed to marijuana. He particularly hates the idea of cannabis retail establishments and social clubs. “I voted against marijuana legislation in the first place,” he declared with an angry shake of his head after a town meeting last month. “I still say it’s just another drug that we put out on the streets.”
Why should we even care what Gallant thinks? After all, Mainers voted for legal weed back in 2016, and he’s the disgraced lawman who quit last December after news broke that he was sending people self-portraits of his penis. The explicit selfies — taken in uniform, inside his office — were just the tip of the scandal. Next came accusations of a poorly run department and overly sexual workplace, including allegations that Gallant harassed subordinates and begged them for sex. Gallant allegedly tried to pressure a deputy and his wife, for instance, into a threesome. On another occasion, Gallant allegedly wrote a text to a deputy asking him for sexual favors. Then, this spring, a $5 million lawsuit was filed against Gallant by a 38-year-old man who claims the longtime law-enforcement officer had sexually abused and harassed him since 1999.
Well, we should care because, despite all those indications (and more) that Gallant is unfit to serve as dog catcher, he’s wielding the gavel as chairman of the town of Bethel’s “Marijuana Committee,” as the group is colloquially known. The 11-member body was tasked by the Board of Selectmen to draft a local cannabis-regulation ordinance, and the wording of that law could determine whether cannabis-related businesses will ever be able to operate in this small tourist town on the western edge of the Oxford Hills, near Sunday River, about 60 miles northwest of Portland.
Gallant has the demeanor of a man accustomed to getting his way. Judging by the red face, furrowed brow and frown he wore throughout the meeting I attended last month, he doesn’t appear to be enjoying his time as chairman of this committee. He’s been on the losing side of almost every battle, petty or otherwise, since it was formed last year.
“You can tell it’s a broken committee, that’s for sure,” Gallant said during a brief interview after the April 18 meeting in Bethel Town Hall. “This meeting wasn’t too bad, but some of the meetings [residents] come to, they come reeking of marijuana,” he claimed. “If I came to a meeting with alcohol on my breath, holy cow, somebody would say I’ve got a drinking problem.”
What Gallant doesn’t seem to realize is that many townspeople in attendance work in the cannabis industry, which would explain their delightful aroma. At least 45 medical-marijuana caregivers grow cannabis in Bethel (pop. 2,600), beside nearly as many in the neighboring town of Newry (pop. 300 and change). The growers show up, en masse, whenever they hear rumors of potential threats to their industry and livelihood.
The April meeting reeked more of conflict than weed. Roughly half the time was spent on the ongoing debate about a sub-committee that meets weekly. It was formed because most members of the Marijuana Committee feel its monthly meetings aren’t frequent enough to tackle all the complicated issues surrounding cannabis rulemaking. However, a vocal minority of Marijuana Committee members brusquely refuse to “recognize” the legitimacy of the sub-committee and are dismissive of its findings.
Many committee members also expressed displeasure with Town Manager Christine Landes’ proposed cannabis moratorium. Landes wants the temporary ban placed on the warrant for a vote during the June town meeting. The moratorium includes a ban on medical-marijuana storefronts, which angers those who believe medical cannabis is a separate issue, already regulated by the state. Several committee members threatened to publicly oppose the moratorium and urge townsfolk to do the same unless the medical provision is removed.
The hour-long meeting was not productive. Even to the casual observer, it’s obvious the committee is overwhelmingly in favor of having retail stores in Bethel, but three squeaky wheels, including Gallant, keep monkey-wrenching the process, trying to slow the committee’s progress.
Ultimately, the state lawmakers in Augusta are to blame for the mess as Bethel and many other Maine communities wrestle with the intricacies of marijuana regulation.
After almost two years of meetings, public hearings, fact-finding missions and political maneuverings, Maine lawmakers finally approved LD 1719, an 80-page bill regulating the cannabis industry. At press time, the legislation’s fate was still mired in the legislative swamp, but the version on the table includes a provision allowing municipalities to ignore the state regulations. Cities and towns, under “home rule,” would be allowed to institute their own rules, including outright prohibition of canna-related businesses.
Alas, that’s not the only problem with LD 1719. The excise tax, for example, is practically guaranteed to drive small growers out of the industry. Almost at the last minute, and without a public hearing, the bill was amended to increase the excise tax to $335 per pound. That’s in addition to the 10 percent sales tax, when and if retail stores are allowed to open (which looks like spring of 2019, at the earliest).
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Once the retail markets open and the price levels out, growers are hoping that a pound of high-quality weed will wholesale for $1,600. A good indoor grower, using organic ingredients, spends about $800 to harvest a pound of herb (that cost is less for outdoor grows, but the wholesale price for that weed would be lower, too). Subtract expenses and the $335 excise tax and the licensing fees. That leaves about $400 per pound for the grower. And that’s before the IRS takes their share. Plus, we’re not even factoring in the cost of testing, packaging and seed-to-sale tracking systems required by the state.
So if LD 1719 becomes law in Maine, say goodbye to a thriving, locally owned cannabis industry. Small growers won’t be able to work for such tiny margins. Huge commercial operations growing tons of shitty weed without love, though, won’t mind paying the tax, especially since the levy will have eliminated their local competition.
LD 1719 also contains nutty rules on cannabis advertising. Crazily, Big Pharma and the merchants of death hawking booze and tobacco would be freer to tout their poisonous wares than those in the cannabis business. With this bill, there’s no “advertising or marketing that has a high likelihood of reaching persons under 21 years old.” The legislation also includes restrictions on Internet banner ads that seem unenforceable and, if tested in court, likely unconstitutional.
To top off the lunacy, lawmakers decided to slash the number of plants people can grow for their personal use from six to three. A couple legislators jibber-jabbered about backyard gardeners fueling a black market to justify the reduction. Word on the street, though, is that greedy legislators doesn’t want Mainers growing their own, tax-free, stash. Regardless of the real motivation, this provision is another blatant example of our elected representatives working against the will of the people who put them in power.
Meanwhile, back in Bethel, Town Manager Landes is pleased her municipality has a chance to rewrite cannabis law. “I don’t think the average voter knows what they voted on,” she said. “Besides, marijuana is still illegal, federally.” Landes doesn’t think cannabis will ever become legal nationwide. Spooked by fear of the Federales, several town managers in Maine have vowed to quit their job if their municipalities legalize the devil’s lettuce, Landes said. She declined to reveal the names of those administrators.
Beyond the moratorium, Landes wants a 1,000-foot buffer between retail weed stores and all churches, schools and daycares in Bethel. That would make most of downtown effectively off-limits to pot shops. Landes concedes that the town doesn’t apply a similar buffer to the many stores, restaurants and bars in town that have liquor licenses. She also supports asking Bethel voters whether they want to ban some types of marijuana sales entirely. She said there’s been “some talk” around town that opponents of legal cannabis “may be fearful of coming to public meetings and they’d rather be at the polls, voting in private.”
As for Gallant, Landes said there was also some buzz around town, after the whole dick-pic fiasco, as to whether he should step down from the Marijuana Committee. After a brief discussion by the Board of Selectmen, it was decided that Gallant’s role as committee chair had nothing to do with his alleged improprieties.
“How people view his law-enforcement career — whether it is a disgrace or that he gave a lot to the county — that’s just a personal opinion,” Landes told me.
So this ex-sheriff deemed unfit to enforce the law gets to help write laws, instead. “With any type of legalization of any type of drug, the opportunities for people to illegally purchase it is still there,” Gallant told me after the meeting. “We’ve had that problem with alcohol for years. The more places we have for alcohol, the more opportunities we have for younger people to get alcohol.”
Gallant refused to comment when I asked whether his decades of work with the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in Rumford had a positive or negative impact on the community, which has been decimated by the opioid epidemic. And when asked whether his workplace misconduct and the pending lawsuit should impact his role as chair of the Bethel Marijuana Committee, the former sheriff scurried away and hid in the Town Hall’s men’s room.