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State v. Pedersen

May 18, 2004

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
ARIEL SUZETTE PEDERSEN, APPELLANT.



Chisago County District Court File No. K5-01-515.

Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

To establish that one has a sincerely held religious belief in the medicinal use of marijuana that is protected under the Freedom of Conscience Clause, article I, section 16, of the Minnesota Constitution, the individual must articulate some connection between the use of marijuana and his or her communal religious practices or the principle tenets of his or her religion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

On October 6, 2000, a Chisago County sheriff stopped appellant, Ariel Suzette Pederson, for speeding. When the sheriff approached her car, he detected an odor of marijuana and a subsequent search of the car yielded 529.3 grams of marijuana. Chisago County charged appellant with felony possession of a controlled substance crime in the fifth degree, and possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle. Appellant moved to dismiss the criminal complaint, arguing, among other things, that the laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana as applied to her are unconstitutional because they violate her rights under the Freedom of Conscience Clause of the Minnesota Constitution. The district court denied her motion, concluding that appellant's beliefs about marijuana use are personal beliefs as opposed to communal religious beliefs. Following a bench trial, appellant was convicted of felony controlled substance crime in the fifth degree. The trial court sentenced appellant to an indeterminate period of probation not to exceed five years on the condition that she refrain from the use or possession of marijuana. On appeal, appellant argues that the district court erred by denying her motion to dismiss. Because we conclude that appellant's beliefs about marijuana use are personal beliefs rather than communal religious practices or tenets, we affirm.

FACTS

The parties do not dispute the underlying facts of this case. On October 6, 2000, Chisago County Sheriff Deputy Doug Henning stopped appellant, Ariel Suzette Pedersen, for speeding. When Henning approached appellant's vehicle he detected an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. He asked appellant if she had any marijuana and she admitted "yes, a little." During a search of the vehicle the sheriff discovered 529.3 grams of marijuana. Chisago County charged appellant with felony possession of a controlled substance crime in the fifth degree under Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) (2000), and possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 152.027, subd. 3 (2000).

On September 12, 2001, appellant filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint contending that the criminal statutes under which the county was prosecuting her were unconstitutional as applied to her because they violated the Freedom of Conscience Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, article I, section 16. Additionally, appellant argued that any penalty that deprived her of marijuana would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, section 5, of the Minnesota Constitution.

At the omnibus hearing on appellant's motion, Dr. John Paul Morgan, a physician who examined appellant's medical records, testified that appellant suffers from a mixed connective tissue disorder called Raynaud's Phenomena. The condition causes swelling and pain in the hands and fingers. Dr. Morgan testified that appellant suffers nausea, gastric upsets, depression of her appetite, and occasional muscle spasms because of her use of prescribed opioid compounds and perhaps the underlying illness. Appellant has been treated with a variety of anti-inflammatory drugs and orally active opioid compounds. Nevertheless, appellant testified that she is usually so nauseated that she vomits seven to eight times a day and that on a good day she will only vomit once or twice. Appellant testified that she smokes two to three marijuana cigarettes a day, and that the marijuana stops the nausea and gives her an appetite. She testified that the marijuana also stops her muscle spasms.

Dr. Morgan likewise testified that appellant's use of marijuana helped achieve pain relief and helped with the "dyspeptic upper GI symptoms; her loss of appetite and her loss of weight." Dr. Morgan testified that marijuana is the best remedy for appellant. He also testified that there are other remedies, including Marinol, an FDA-approved drug that is accepted by the American Medical Association and is prescribed for the relief of nausea. Marinol contains THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. But Dr. Morgan acknowledged that Marinol is not as effective as marijuana because Marinol, which is taken orally, is rapidly degraded by the liver and little of the THC reaches the blood stream. Appellant testified that Marinol helps with spasms and increases her appetite, but she stated that she throws up her Marinol because of the nausea.

With respect to her religious beliefs, appellant testified that she graduated in 1997 from the Ministry Training Institute in Los Angeles, California, and described herself as "a teacher essentially of ministry studies." Appellant testified that her medicinal use of marijuana is consistent with her religious belief as a Messianic Jew; appellant cited various biblical passages to support this contention. Appellant stated that the book of Genesis instructs that "God gives us every plant bearing seeds inside itself for our consumption and for our health." Genesis 1:11-12, 29; 9:3. Appellant stated that Messianic Jews have been using cannabis since the beginning of time for incense and oils and medicinal purposes. Appellant testified that in the book of Exodus the Bible authorizes the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. According to appellant, "God was explaining to Moses all the ingredients to put into the incense for the temple. Within this confinement of the five ingredients was sweet cane. Sweet cane is cannabis in Hebrew, meaning scented reed or sweet smelling reed."

Reverend Karl Dean Buchanan also testified on appellant's behalf. Reverend Buchanan has been ordained into the Baptist Missionary Ministry. He is also a teacher at the church of MidVar Metzarim and has taken approximately 16 credit hours of Essenic studies, which is the study of the Jewish sect responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls.*fn1 Reverend Buchanan testified that the ...


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