Rastafarian Defense Goes Up in Smoke

Legal
Rastafarian Defense Goes Up in Smoke

Seems that Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s recently signed in Religious Freedom Restoration Act has done little to help a Rastafarian man trying to get his felony marijuana charges reduced.

Last week Indiana Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller rejected a defense argument that charges against Jerome Scott, 30, should be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor because he is a practicing member of the Rastafarian faith, which believes in the open use of cannabis for religious purposes.

Scott believed that he was doing his community a service by cultivating marijuana in order to ease various ailments from chronic back pain to cancer. However, the judge disagreed. 

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

Scott, who actually is a resident of Michigan, first appeared on Indiana law enforcement’s radar after an unbelievable run of bad luck. He was originally arrested during an incident on March 19, in which Scott was robbed and subsequently shot by unknown assailants who are still at large. However while unsuccessfully searching Scott’s residence for the robbers, police did find evidence of a grow operation at the home, and not wanting to go home empty handed, arrested him instead. In March, Scott pleaded guilty to one felony count of marijuana possession. In exchange, prosecutors dropped another felony charge of maintaining a common nuisance.

“Cultivating my own cannabis is my way of not contributing to the black market and drug dealing tactics,” Scott said at his sentencing, denying accusations that he is a drug dealer. “In my natural state, I don’t believe I’m breaking any law. I know I’m not harming anyone or causing any harm to the community.”

Judge Woodward Miller ordered Scott to serve 18 months on probation, but it's the felony on the permanent record that could really hurt. Scott worries that his 'caregiver' status in Michigan will now be in jeopardy. For now his license in Michigan to grow marijuana for other approved patients is valid, but a felony conviction will ruin any chances of renewing his license when the time comes. More than just helping others, Scott also views the cultivation of marijuana as a key aspect of his Rastafarian faith. Not to mention the loss of his license will leave Scott even more open to the long arm of the law for any of his future endeavors.

Scott’s girlfriend, Melanie Schmidt, who was also charged in the case said, “All of his hard work, all of his studying, his whole life, they’re telling him he can’t do that.”

Schmidt said that the fact that the felony conviction could prevent him from continuing to cultivate cannabis for patients in Michigan is unjust.

To followers of the Rastafarian faith, which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, cannabis is a holy herb, and smoking marijuana is considered a sacrament that brings peace, wisdom, and a spiritual connection to nature. It’s unclear how many people identify as Rastafarian in the South Bend area, or Indiana in general, as census figures do not include it among other religions.