The Minnesota Court of Appeals has sided with a 15-year-old Rastafarian, ruling that his right to religious expression trumps his being found guilty in Ramsey County of a drug paraphernalia offense for carrying a glass pipe.
In Monday’s reversal of the District Court on the petty misdemeanor case from September 2012, Court of Appeals Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks wrote that the teenager has a “genuinely held belief in possessing a cannabis pipe” as part of observing his faith.
Therefore, Halbrooks continued, the prosecution had “failed to meet its burden” of showing that it had a “compelling state interest” in enforcing the statute in this case.
“The state improperly ... argues that because the pipe may be used for an illegal purpose,” the teen is guilty, Halbrooks wrote.
Referenced only by initials in the ruling but identified by his family as Jordan, the teen’s brush with the law began while at his grandfather’s home in White Bear Lake a year ago. The two of them and his mother were arguing, and a physical conflict prompted the grandfather to call police.
As Jordan was being arrested, police found the glass pipe and tobacco in a pocket. He was charged as a juvenile with disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia and being a minor in possession of tobacco, all petty misdemeanors.
In challenging the drug paraphernalia charge, Jordan testified that he and his parents are practicing Rastafarians. He added that the pipe was integral to his religious belief -- for performing “what needs to be performed” as well as a personal reminder of his faith.
In particular, Halbrook’s ruling cited Jordan’s testimony that the pipe’s three colors -- red, yellow and green -- have religious significance: “red for the blood [of] the martyrs; yellow for the sun that grows the greens, the sacred herb; the purity of nature.”
While the lower court acknowledged the sincerity of his beliefs, it also noted that his faith did not require him to carry the pipe with him at all times. The teen was subsequently found guilty on all three counts. The two remaining counts were not contested by the teen, and he remains guilty of those.
The Ramsey County attorney’s office has yet to respond to the ruling or reveal whether it intends to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Michael Kemp, the boy’s attorney, said he won a reversal because he successfully argued that the state’s enforcement of the drug paraphernalia in this case “was a burden on [the teen’s] religion.”
“The fatal flaw in the state’s argument,” Kemp continued, “was to rely on arguing the state’s interests in enforcement of controlled substances laws and ending their argument there.”
Kemp also wanted it made clear that while this type of glass pipe is widely used for use of marijuana and other illegal drugs, “there was never any evidence or allegation that [his client] possessed” an illicit drug.