Court to hear case of pot use in religion

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2007

KETCHIKAN - A Craig couple is arguing that their marijuana convictions should be overturned because a liquefied form of the drug was only used as an ointment in their religious practices.

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Michael and Maria Lineker appealed the convictions, and the Alaska Court of Appeals in October sent the case back to Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks "to determine whether the Linekers' possession of marijuana was protected under the free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution."

The Linekers were arrested in 2003 after police discovered 50 marijuana plants in a hidden room behind a freezer in their Craig home. Police found no paraphernalia related to smoking, ingesting or selling marijuana.

The state charged them with fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, a felony.

The Linekers filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, claiming that their possession was protected under state and federal rights to privacy and free exercise of religion. Weeks denied the motion but preserved the Linekers' right to appeal that decision.

In 2004, the Linekers entered plea bargains with the state. They both pleaded guilty, he to fourth degree misconduct, she to fourth-degree attempted misconduct. He received seven days and she got a suspended sentence.

However, the couple appealed, and Weeks heard arguments last week after the higher court sent the case back to him to determine whether a religion was involved, if Linekers' conduct in question was religiously based, and whether they were sincere in their religious beliefs.

Michael Lineker testified his research of ancient Jewish and Hindu scriptures led to his belief that a liquid extract of marijuana buds is an essential ingredient of an anointing oil used since ancient times.

The anointing fluid is made by mixing a half gallon of liquefied marijuana with half a gallon of olive oil, and was used as only one part of a larger spiritual ritual, he said.

Other elements of the ritual to be followed by any member of his church include abstaining from alcohol and drugs, fasting, medication and prayer and cleansing internal organs with purified water.

Under cross-examination, Lineker told state prosecutor Rick Svobodny that he performed the anointing ceremony "at most, three times (in one) year."

The full name of his religion is "United Global Mankind - Divine Maintenance and Direction," Lineker said. However, he did tell Svobodny that since his wife doesn't like to participate in the sacrament, it was presently a religion of one person.

Lineker said he became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church on June 23, 2003, about one month after his arrest, and was also a member of the Hawaiian Cannabis Ministry.

Weeks scheduled a four-day hearing beginning April 21 to consider the state's argument that marijuana laws should be enforced, and that the Linekers should not be exempt from them, even if the judge finds in their favor.

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