Nearly fifteen months after the 4/20 holiday when founders of the International Church of Cannabis were accused of promoting public cannabis consumption and violating the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act — two misdemeanors that carry penalties of no more than several hundred dollars in fines — Steve Berke, Briley Hale and Lee Molloy are still awaiting trial.
They were expecting that trial to start on July 11, and planned to contest charges filed by the City of Denver that they were complicit in allowing public pot consumption during the church's inaugural event on April 20, 2017. But just like the trial originally scheduled for February, this one didn't happen.
The February trial was postponed because of a lack of jurors. This latest postponement happened before the trial even began; it was moved to September 11 because of a court scheduling matter, according to the Denver City Attorney's Office. Molloy says the founders were offered a chance to "punt the case" or reschedule the trial, and they all chose the latter.
The case stems from differing interpretations of the city's definition of private events. During the church's 2017 4/20 observation, several undercover officers with the Denver Police Department entered the indoor congregation area and observed attendees consuming cannabis during what Berke describes as a private, members-only gathering. Berke claims the undercover officers entered under false pretenses and pretended to be members, but city attorneys and the DPD say officers were allowed to enter freely.
Berke and his fellow founders fought the initial public-consumption citations by arguing that they never smoked during the event — but during the first attempt at a trial in February, city attorneys debuted a different strategy centered on "complicity theory." Under that strategy, the city claims, even if the church's founders weren't consuming pot themselves, they were complicit in allowing others to do so, thus making them responsible. A similar strategy was used by city attorneys to revoke Sweet Leaf's business licenses during hearings for selling more marijuana to customers per day than the state Marijuana Enforcement Division allowed.
However, the complicity theory wasn't persuasive in February, when multiple jurors were excused when they objected to the city's use of resources on the case, leaving more jury challenges than potential jurors remaining. Neither the prosecution nor the defense would waive the potential to issue more challenges, so the judge declared a mistrial.
During that first attempt, multiple jurors questioned the amount of city resources used to issue six citations to three individuals, hold a trial and bring in a handful of DPD officers to testify. Another woman vocally struggled with the idea of charging the church with social consumption while "hundreds of people do it" during concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Since the citations were issued, Molloy says, the church has continued to hold consumption-friendly congregations on Friday nights "for members only" without interference from law enforcement.
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