DENVER (CBS4)– The fine was small, but the issue was large for Steve Berke. He is one of the founders of the International Church of Cannabis in Denver.
After a four-day trial a Denver County Court jury found him guilty of open and public consumption of marijuana and violating the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.
The incident in question happened on April 20, 2017. It’s a day of raucous marijuana celebrations in Denver and around the country. It was also the opening of the Church.
The city had sent the church attorney a letter stating it had seen an announcement that the building was to be used as “the first large venue in the world where adults can legally consume cannabis in a social environment.”
The city informed the church that, “a belief in the benefits of marijuana does not constitute a religious belief.”
But after the verdict was returned Berke strongly disagreed, “As far as last time I checked we have freedom of religion in this country and because I believe cannabis helps me on my spiritual journey doesn’t give somebody else to say that’s not a valid religion.”
Eric Escudero who speaks for the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy says the event may have been
called private, but anyone could get an invitation via email and it was an event to use marijuana in public.
“There are plenty of opportunities to consume in private in home and also opportunities with a social consumption license,” he said.
An undercover officer got into the church for the event although some members of the public were turned away. Two others who were at the church that day are also facing charges.
The penalty for Berke’s conviction is just a $50 fine and $21 in court costs. But he sees this as intrusion on a constitutional right. The City of Denver insists it is just trying to uphold the law.