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Judge Rejects Rastafarian Religion Plea In Marijuana Case

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
NEW LONDON, Conn. - A Norwich man's religious belief was not enough to convince a judge to reduce his jail time for marijuana possession.

Vernon Smith, 43, is a Rastafarian who believes his use of pot is a God-given right. He had pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to sell after police found him with more than 20 pounds of the drug in July.

In New London Superior Court on Nov. 15, Smith's lawyer argued unsuccessfully for a reduced sentence. Prosecutors successfully sought a term of 2.5 years in prison and three years probation.

Smith, who appeared before Judge Susan B. Handy in a white robe and headwrap, said he tries to set a good example and that he follows the Ten Commandments. He does not consider himself a criminal, he said.

"I know that the law is such in this country, but I feel one day the law will change, especially with people who indulge in marijuana and are not violent," Smith said. He knows many people who use marijuana to relax and meditate, he said.

Rastafarians worship as a living god Ethiopia's last emperor, Haile Selassie, who died in 1975. They preach unity with nature and smoke marijuana as a sacrament.

Smith, who is from St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and is a stay-at-home father of seven children while his wife works, supplements his income by selling marijuana, said his lawyer, Ronald Stevens. He does not sell to children, Stevens said.

"Mr. Smith firmly believes in his heart of hearts and in his religious and cultural convictions that marijuana is part of his human rights," Stevens said. "He wants to fight the good fight for the legalization of marijuana."

Prosecutor John P. Gravalec-Pannone said the General Assembly is responsible for changing state law. And his experience shows that buying and selling marijuana - and its potency when mixed with other substances - leads to violent crimes, he said.

"The law is the law," Gravalec-Pannone said.

Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2007 North County Times
Contact: letters@nctimes.com
Website: North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News - NCTimes.com - Californian.com
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