In March, we reported that the local activist Dezy Saint-Nolde, who goes by Queen Phoenix, pleaded not guilty to five felony and three misdemeanor charges related to her “gifting” marijuana in exchange for donations.
Queen Phoenix says that since March, when she entered her plea, the Denver County District Attorney's Office offered her a settlement deal that included a Class 3 felony conviction, but she decided not to take the deal at an arraignment hearing scheduled yesterday, July 6.
Maintaining her innocence, her jury trial is now set to begin on October 16.
Phoenix's case was first covered by Westword as part of a January cover story concerning social-media surveillance and monitoring of activists by the Denver Police Department. While Phoenix's criminal charges are purely drug-related, she believes that she was singled out because of her activism. Her most notable protest activity was organizing a November 10 march right after Donald Trump's election that drew thousands of participants. It was only a month and a half later, on December 27, when she was arrested in a Starbucks parking lot while conducting a marijuana transaction with an undercover cop.
Phoenix has said she was under the impression that her marijuana transactions were legal since she found a website suggesting that Colorado residents can gift up to an ounce of marijuana in return for suggested donations. But it also doesn't take an extensive Google search to find multiple statements by the DPD and other Colorado officials explaining that gifting marijuana — in any amount — in return for donations is not allowed.
Lawyers will hash out distinctions between “gifting” and “selling” at the jury trial. And a central component of Phoenix's case will still be whether her activism played a role in her arrest.
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Phoenix says she's consulting with her lawyer next week about how to conduct the discovery phase of her case, when she can request documents and evidence from the city. While neither a police report nor an affidavit for a search warrant for her property mentioned her activism or protest activities — only her marijuana transactions — Phoenix believes there is more to the story.
After keeping a low profile for a number of months, she's also starting to get back into activism. Last Saturday, Phoenix gave a speech at an event at the Aurora Central Library about how to add diversity to activism. And she says she'll help lead a march in protest against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when DeVos is in Denver on July 19.
"I want to keep up my activism because there are so many people in the community that are asking for it and needing it,” Pheonix says. “I'd be letting them down if I let this [trial] bog me down."