- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A northern Indiana judge rejected an argument by a man who asked that his marijuana possession charge be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor because he follows the Rastafarian faith.

Jerome Scott that he was being charitable to others by cultivating marijuana to ease ailments from chronic back pain to cancer, the South Bend Tribune reports (https://bit.ly/1QOUiKT ). St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller said he still broke the law.

“I understand there are many people who agree with you that marijuana should be legal, but you’re in the wrong state for that,” she said. “What you knowingly and deliberately did in Indiana is break the law by not only cultivating it, but also distributing it.”

Followers of the Rastafari faith, developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, believe cannabis is a holy herb, and smoking marijuana is considered a sacrament that brings peace, wisdom and a spiritual connection to nature. Scott and his girlfriend, 23-year-old Melanie Schmidt, see the state’s marijuana laws as unjust.

Scott said was not a drug dealer, but that he distributed the cannabis strictly for medical and religious purposes.

“Cultivating my own cannabis is my way of not contributing to the black market and drug dealing tactics,” he said.

In March, Scott pleaded guilty to a felony count of possession of marijuana. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a felony charge of maintaining a common nuisance. Schmidt pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana charge.

Woodward Miller ordered Scott to serve 18 months on probation and sentenced Schmidt to 12 months on probation.

Scott, who has a license in Michigan to grow marijuana for other approved patients as a “caregiver,” said his felony conviction will ruin his chances of having his license renewed. If he loses the license, Scott said, he will also lose the right to practice the cultivation of cannabis, which he views as a calling and key aspect of his faith.

“All of his hard work, all of his studying, his whole life, they’re telling him he can’t do that,” Schmidt said.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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