"You can call me a pothead," slow-talking Harry Brown tells me, roughly 15 minutes into my visit to his 80-acre farm in Starks, Maine.
So I will. Harry Brown is a 60-year-old pothead. He's also an activist, an artist, and the host of next weekend's 19th annual Harry's Hoe Down, a festival that's being reincarnated this year to reflect the event's roots.
"It's gonna be more towards what the original intentions were," he says, down by the mainstage at the bottom of the hill where most of the festival's 2000-plus attendees will gather.
"To have a social, political event that helps define who we are."
And who are you?
"Candid, vulnerable, sensitive," he responds. "With the intent to effect peaceful social change regarding America's longest, costliest, and most ill-advised war — the war against some drugs."
Brown's been fighting his own war for decades, since he was first arrested with a pound of pot in 1968 in Ossining, New York. After attending the University of Hartford Art School (and dipping his toes into activist waters during a 1970 anti-war, anti-government protest in New Haven), he came to Maine via Seabrook, New Hampshire, where he was involved in the 1977 civil-disobedience protest against construction of a nuclear power plant there. During the two-week Seabrook occupation, he met a group of activists from Farmington; shortly thereafter, he moved to the farm he lives on today.
He celebrated his 30th birthday on this hill, and last month, he celebrated his 60th in the same place (there were, he recalls fondly, several "sophisto East Coast-type women" in attendance at both parties). At this farm, with his partner Cindy Hanson, he grows and sells organic garlic, keeps a small menagerie of animals (chickens, cats, dogs), and operates what Cindy refers to as "Harry's haven for hapless, hopeless men." (His farmhouse has something of an open-door policy for friends and friends of friends.)
Does he grow anything else? You know what I mean.
He bristles. "What kind of question is that?"
An obvious one.
"I'm approved for medical marijuana use," he says with a defiant glare. "I make sure it's cultivated for my medical marijuana needs."
Such issues will be at the forefront during the three-day festival that's being coordinated by Cow Pasture Productions (CPP), a group that has no legal affiliation with the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative (MMPI), but is closely associated with it — MMPI's executive director, Jonathan Leavitt, also heads CPP, and half of the revenue collected from the Hoe Down will be funneled to support MMPI's efforts to legalize marijuana.
MMPI recently spearheaded a successful campaign to get a medical marijuana initiative on this November's state ballot. In 1998, it became legal for certain patients in Maine to possess pot, if they have a prescription. But there's no system in place to keep track of who holds such prescriptions, nor is there a legal way for said patients to procure pot, or for approved growers to cultivate it.