Teacher returns to Falmouth classroom with marijuana charge pending

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FALMOUTH — High school English teacher Mark Melnicove has returned to his classroom wth marijuana possession charges still pending.

Melnicove, 58, was charged Nov. 1 after an unannounced police search of the high school parking lot allegedly discovered 2.4 grams of marijuana in his car.

As a result, Melnicove, who is also active in the local writing and publishing industry, was placed on leave the same day and did not return to work until Dec. 6.

School officials said Melnicove took a “significant loss of pay” for the month he was on leave, but would not say how much his salary was reduced.

According to MaineOpenGov.org, Melnicove made nearly $57,800 in the 2007-2008 school year, with an additional $1,300 for co-curricular activities.

“He received some time without pay. On the advice of counsel, I’m going to stick with what the letter said,” Superintendent Barbara Powers said Tuesday, referring to a letter Melnicove wrote and released to the school community last week.

The letter indicated that Melnicove suffered from back problems and was using marijuana as a treatment for the pain when narcotic treatments prescribed to him did not work.

“Rather than go out on medical leave, I chose to follow the recommendation of a friend to try marijuana to ease my pain. I began bringing it to school in my car in order to use it off campus after school so that I could withstand the pain.”

Falmouth Police Lt. John Kilbride said the teacher never indicated at the time of the search that his marijuana use was a medical issue. “He showed us no evidence of a letter from a doctor,” Kilbride said.

Under Maine’s medical marijuana law, a person must have a signed letter from a doctor recommending marijuana as a treatment to legally possess the drug.

Powers indicated she spoke to the Falmouth Police Department and to Melnicove, and decided to allow him to return to the classroom. She said she was unaware of the current status of the civil charges against him.

When asked how his reinstatement might affect students, Powers deferred to High School Principal Gregg Palmer.

Palmer said he was proud of the students and staff for the maturity they have shown in dealing with the issue.

“We have tried to be careful about discussing the danger of using illegal substances …,” Palmer said. “There’s ongoing curriculum work that deals with those issues, and Mr. Melnicove’s letter underscores that reality.”

In the letter, Melnicove apologized for his actions, stating that he “committed a serious offense against the school and exhibited very poor judgment.”

At the end of the letter, after explaining his medical issues, he added, “I do not promote or condone the use of illegal drugs or banned substances nor do I use them.”

Melnicove is scheduled to appear in court to face the charges against him on Friday, Dec. 10.

Two phone numbers for Melnicove, who lives in Dresden, have been disconnected and he could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net