A mistrial was declared by Judge Fred Rodgers in Denver County Court for the highly awaited case against Steve Berke, Briley Hale and Lee Molloy, founders of the International Church of Cannabis. The case, which has already gone through at least 5 pretrial hearings, has been considered highly controversial as a lot of city money is being spent on a minor infraction that, if proven, could cost defendants a maximum fine of $300 each. The mistrial occurred due to a lack of jurors. The pool of 24 jurors was cut down to 15, making it impossible to move forward with proceedings. “Each side had 6 preemptory challenges,” stated the defendants defense attorney Warren Edson. “So if you take 12 away from 15, we didn’t have 6.”
Charges Allege Violation of Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act
The case against defendants is based on their alleged violation of the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act on April 20, 2017. 420 has long been associated with cannabis. Every year on April 20th, cannabis users take the day as an unofficial holiday for the plant. The International Church of Cannabis opened its doors on April 20th. While the Church was open to the public through the day, founders took time at 4:20PM to have a private invitation only cannabis ceremony. Undercover police officers infiltrated the event and charged the founders with being complicit in fostering the public use of cannabis.
“We Would’ve Won Today”
The defendants claim, however, that days before the event took place, they met with city attorneys to ensure that they would not be infringing on the city’s cannabis laws regarding public use. They were informed that due to the private nature of the event, they were not breaking any laws. “We would’ve won today,” says Berke, after hearing news of the mistrial. “I think this is a travesty to the city and people of Denver to have to pay for this again.”
A Waste of Time and Resources
The potential jurors echoed this sentiment, with one telling the judge, “I pay taxes and wonder how my tax dollars are being utilized.” Another juror told the court, “I’m struggling with the amount of resources put towards this.” This juror told the judge that “hundreds of people” smoke at the city owned venue Red Rocks Amphitheater during concerts and the police just “look the other way.” While the city has been spending a large amount of time and resources on a minor infraction, it is not the $300 fine alone that they seek. Should the defendants be found guilty, the city can file forfeiture paperwork on the International Church of Cannabis.
The Church now has 2,000 members who are local to Denver and 5,000 members in total. They currently have private consumption friendly events for members only on Fridays. According to Leafly, Berke believes that the city is targeting the Church because they don’t believe “that our principles are deeply-held religious beliefs. This comes down, in my opinion, to religious persecution.” The new trial date is set for July and, until that point, the Church will continue operating and holding events with respect to cannabis and its ability to connect consumers with a sense of the divine.