HARMONY, Maine — The collection of signatures for two pro-marijuana petitions was boosted over the weekend at a music festival staged by Maine Vocals, the group circulating the petitions.

Turnout for the Maine PeaceJam Fest in Harmony was lower than expected, which promoter Don Christen attributed to tough economic times and the fact the festival was early in the summer season. Christen, founder of Maine Vocals, has at least six more music festivals planned on his Carson Hill Road property between now and mid-October.

The Maine PeaceJam Fest, organized by Christen’s group, is both a fundraiser and a vehicle to send a message, Christen told the audience during a break in the music Saturday. He urged anyone registered to vote in Maine to sign two pro-pot petitions that he began circulating recently.

One of the petitions would make what Christen said are improvements to Maine’s medical marijuana law, which was amended by citizen initiative in November 2009. Christen’s proposed law would provide more protections for patients and doctors who prescribe marijuana; eliminate a requirement that patients carry identification cards and drastically increase the amount of marijuana that a patient or marijuana provider can legally possess.

The other petition being circulated by Maine Vocals would legalize pot outright for anyone 19 years of age or older; wipe away pot-related convictions from people’s records and set up a sales tax on pot to bring revenue to the state.

Stephanie Mountain of Sidney signed both petitions Saturday after a detailed explanation from Christen about what she was signing.

“I believe in pot,” she said. “It’s way better for society than alcohol. I think this would be a wonderful thing.”

Arthur LeBlanc of Moscow also signed the petitions during the music festival.

“Most people got over [the opposition to marijuana] in the 1970s,” he said. “It’s just time to deregulate it. Think about how much time and resources get tied up in the pot laws. We could feed a lot of people with those resources.”

A Moscow man who wouldn’t identify himself said he uses marijuana for a medical condition. After signing both petitions, he said one reason for his support is that Maine could reap huge revenues from the sale of marijuana.

“We don’t want to see the government signing any more IOUs,” he said. “We could use this money for some good things.”

Christen needs 55,087 signatures on each petition in order to force the Legislature to either approve the measures or send them to a statewide referendum. The deadline for the petitions is January 2011.

Christen said he already has collected hundreds of signatures from people all over Maine and distributed petitions to numerous volunteers.

“A lot of the people who come to these festivals are from out of state,” he said. “They can’t sign, but we’re doing all we can do.”

Christen hopes to see both pro-marijuana questions on the November 2011 ballot.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.