Rabbi Ariel Pedersen desperately wants to be Minnesota's marijuana martyr.

So, she's thankful to the Chisago County judge who sentenced her Monday to
five years of probation and 90 days of home monitoring, clearing the way
for an appeal she hopes will result in legalizing pot for medicinal purposes.

Pedersen, a former burlesque dancer who fashioned herself into a rabbi
within a fringe group of Jews, even managed to avoid urine testing for
marijuana because of complications with prescribed medications.

"Thank you, your honor," she said, exiting the courtroom. "If I had a
doobie, I'd light it up right now."

Pedersen, 43, who says she uses the drug to relieve a cancerous condition,
was convicted of a 2000 felony charge of possessing about a pound of
marijuana she picked from a field near her former home in North Branch,
Minn. She now plans to take her case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals,
backed by pot advocates such as the state chapter of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Many prosecutors and law enforcement officials consider the cause a pipe
dream. Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there is no exemption to
federal law that would allow marijuana as medicine. And although a handful
of states have approved ballot initiatives for doctor-approved use of the
drug, similar legislative proposals haven't gone far in Minnesota.

Former Gov. Jesse Ventura, a longtime proponent of legalizing pot for
medical use, sparked renewed interest in the issue for Minnesotans. He
taped a video supporting marijuana activists and encouraged a state
Department of Health forum in April 2001 on potential benefits of the drug
for people who suffer from cancer, AIDS and other illnesses.

"How much should people suffer because others won't use common sense?"
Ventura said in the videotaped message. "I hope you push forward on this
issue o there are a lot of people out there who are counting on you."

In her district court battle, Pedersen used two main arguments to defend
her use. The first is that preventing her from smoking a joint is akin to
violating constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment
because of her suffering without the drug.

Pedersen's second argument is that marijuana laws bar her from practicing
freedom of religion. She considers herself a messianic Jew, part of a small
religious sect that practices an unorthodox fusion of Christianity and
Judaism. Pedersen claims she is commanded in the Bible to use all of God's

Daniel Vlieger, the Chisago County prosecutor who handled Pedersen's case,
said similar arguments have failed. He empathized with Pedersen's illness
and said he didn't want to see her jailed. Still, he added, it's his job to
uphold the law.

"If she wants to make a stand for the legalization of marijuana in
Minnesota, the (Court of Appeals) is where she's going to have to go,"
Vlieger said. "People try all sorts of things."

Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jan 2003
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright: 2003 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Contact: letters@pioneerpress.com
Website: http://www.pioneerplanet.com/