AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of people gathered at the Augusta Civic Center this weekend for Canna Maineia, an exposition extolling the benefits of medical marijuana.

Live music, numerous vendors and medical marijuana users of many stripes crowded the civic center for the two-day event, which was organized by Jim Fowler of Hermon. Much of the conference focused on providing information for people about how to grow their own marijuana, through education and sales of everything from growing lights to organic soil to smoking implements. Among the keynote speakers was Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician with practices in Hallowell and Falmouth.

“I see such a wide variety of patients in my practice and I have found cannabis to be incredibly useful for such a wide variety of them,” said Sulak to the audience. “We’re really dedicated to helping people and creating a standard of care for medical marijuana to really make sure it’s being done right. My offices are legitimizing that this is a real medicine. We’re helping real patients and what we’re seeing is amazing. All of these patients from all different walks of life are responding to one medicine and that seems quite incredible to me from a clinical perspective or a scientific perspective.”

Christena Dodge of Brownville agreed. She suffers from conditions that cause severe nausea and back pain.

“Marijuana really helps me with the nausea and helps me eat when I’m really sick,” she said. “It also helps with the pain.”

There were attendees at the event from far and wide. Andrew Cooper of Rhode Island said he has been in some severe car crashes and has a collapsed lung. He said using marijuana eases his symptoms without having to use opioid-based pain medicine.

“There’s no comparison between weed and pills,” he said. “[With marijuana] you’re not stuck on the couch drooling on yourself because you took too many pain meds. I think it’s great and I think more people should be able to use it, for sure.”

The conference also attracted some well-known names from the pro-marijuana world, such as a Las Vegas-based band called Los Marijuanos. The two members of the band call themselves Redeye and Ponyboy. They also maintain a website called Hemp Vision TV.

“We are marijuana activists as well as artists who perform marijuana music,” said Redeye.

“Yeah, we’ve been doing this for years now and there’s no sign of stopping,” said Ponyboy. “We go to every medical marijuana or smoking event we can. We try to bring all the education as well as the new and upcoming stuff to all the people who need it.”

Fowler said seeing so many attendees at the event on Saturday was an emotional culmination of a lot of work in organizing.

“It’s a grouping of people from all over the world who have come here in support of Maine’s fledgling medical marijuana industry,” he said. “It’s going to get larger from here. Every year I’m going to change the name and the theme of it so it never gets boring.”

Fowler, a medical marijuana patient and caregiver in Maine, made headlines in 2010 when his former home in Pittsfield was raided by drug agents and his marijuana plants confiscated. He was charged with marijuana possession and cultivation but in February 2011 he received a deferred disposition ruling from the courts. That means his record was wiped clean after a year with no more violations.

Ron Norton, another pro-marijuana activist with an organization called Maine Green Cross, said the expo was valuable for sick people trying to find legal sources for the medicine or the means to grow their own.

“People have come from Washington and California and all over, giving out free seeds for patients to try out,” he said. “I think it’s a tremendous event.”

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.