STARKS (AP) – A pro-marijuana group that has spent years battling town officials over its annual hemp festival will dissolve, its founder said.

But despite thousands of dollars in unpaid legal bills, Don Christen plans to continue the festivals that Maine Vocals have staged in Starks for 12 years.

“We are giving up our corporate status, but as far as giving up fighting the prohibition of marijuana or hemp, we are very much here and we are not going anywhere,” said Christen, the group’s founder.

Maine Vocals will dissolve because it does not have enough money to hire a lawyer to continue their legal battle with the town, said Christen, of Madison.

The group lost a key decision in the fight in February, when Superior Court Justice Joseph Jabar upheld Starks’ mass gathering ordinance.

The judge ruled that Christen and the Vocals must pay $8,718.49 in legal fees to the town. And he prohibited Christen from staging future festivals in Starks if a mass gathering permit is required.

The town tightened its mass gathering ordinance back in 2001, requiring a permit when groups of at least 750 people gather for six hours. The old rule had applied to gatherings of 2,000 or more people that lasted for at least 12 hours.

Starks officials maintain that the ordinance provides to common-sense health and safety measures. It was passed after thousands of festivalgoers in the 1990s caused traffic problems and overwhelmed police in this town of about 600 people.

Christen argues that his festivals are grandfathered and the ordinance is unconstitutional. The marijuana activist said he will represent himself in an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court because he cannot afford a lawyer.

Christen has applied for a mass gathering permit for “Freedom Fest,” scheduled for June 20-22. He said he will hold the event even if the town denies his application.

AP-ES-05-01-03 0959EDT

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