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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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The city informed the church that, “a belief in the benefits of marijuana does not constitute a religious belief.”

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger interviews Steve Berke (credit: CBS)

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.”

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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.

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“There are plenty of opportunities to consume in private in home and also opportunities with a social consumption license,” he said.

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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.

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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.

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Rick Sallinger

Comments (3)
  1. Robert Chase says:

    Mr. Salinger should launch an investigation of how the City was able to empanel a jury willing to ignore the definitions of “open” and “public” to convict; this insane outcome puts every gathering of two or more people using cannabis at risk of being busted by Denver police and would make illegal hundreds of events conducted in accordance with the law.

    1. Robert Chase says:

      P.S. Excuse me; Mr. Sallinger should. The trial determined nothing substantive; the principle that any gathering into which police can insert a narc is a public one is nonsense and cannot stand. The People of Denver have repeatedly voted to allow the use of cannabis and adults may now use it freely as a matter of constitutional right, so long as they do not do so openly and publicly — that right would mean nothing if private groups meeting on private property could not exercise it! Voters of all stripes should repudiate misgovernment that can waste such resources in a competely wrongheaded investigation and prosecution for a civil offense — to achieve a completely unjust result.

  2. Urban Experiences says:

    Violating the clean air act? Wow, any excuse they can come up with.