Marijuana as sacrament: Jason Wimler to use religious weed defense in possession case

Earlier this week, we spoke with Roger Christie of THC Ministry, who's readying an injunction that, if successful, would essentially treat medical marijuana dispensaries like churches.

In the meantime, Jason Wimler, a reverend with the ministry, is preparing to defend himself against a pot possession charge by maintaining that the weed he had at the time of his arrest was for religious use.

Wimler's attorney, Danyel Joffe, tells the story, which took place last December in Pueblo County.

"Jason had to pull over to the side of the road in a snowstorm," she notes. "He was having problems with his windshield wipers. A state trooper stopped and said he was there to help Jason and his girlfriend, but it was pretty clear he wasn't. He insisted on coming to the car and said he smelled marijuana. So he wrote up a ticket and left. He didn't do anything to help them."

The charge for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana is a petty offense that carries with it only a $100 fine. Even so, Wimler decided to challenge the ticket, because "he'd said he possessed the marijuana for spiritual purposes" as a THC Ministry reverend, Joffe says.

This defense didn't work earlier this year for Trevor Douglas, whose argument was rejected by a Clear Creek County judge. However, Douglas didn't join the THC Ministry until after his arrest. Wimler, in contrast, had joined up several weeks earlier.

Joffe decided to represent Wimler pro bono "specifically to raise the spiritual use of marijuana claim," she says. "I filed a notion noting that Colorado created a criminal law exception to the possession of peyote for people who were members of religions where peyote is a sacrament and argued under the Colorado religious preference provision that the state can't give preference to one religion over another -- so the Colorado ban on marijuana prevented people who wanted to use marijuana for spiritual purposes to do so. And I also argued that it violated the equal protection clause."

Earlier this month, Joffe and Wimler attended a motions hearing in Pueblo County in the company of Reverend James Marks, a Boulder-based THC Ministry member. (Marks blessed the State Capitol in January as part of a pro-cannabis rally.) The result was mixed.

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"The judge ruled that he didn't find a violation of the Colorado preference clause or the equal protection clause, because peyote was legal for religious use and marijuana wasn't," Joffe recalls. "And then he went on to say he didn't personally believe Jason was using the marijuana for spiritual purposes. However, he left the door open to making the argument, saying he would consider a jury instruction arguing that it was his claim that he possessed the marijuana for spiritual purposes. That would leave it to the jury to decide."

Joffe has laid out her assertions in detail: Click here to read her case for dismissal and here to peruse her filing in regard to jury instructions. But her work will be for naught if a hearing on Monday doesn't go in Wimler's direction.

"If the judge denies the jury instruction, then Jason's only real option is an appeal to the district court and then, possibly, to the Colorado Supreme Court," she says.

That's a long road. No doubt Wimler is praying that things work out in his favor more quickly than that.

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