Holy smoke: Rastafarians toke for a higher power

Father and son argue in Minnesota courts that marijuana is essential to their religion

Holy smoke: Rastafarians toke for a higher power
Brian Garrity
Dad Jamison, left, and son Jordan Arend at home in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood

An air conditioning unit in the stairwell doesn't do much to ventilate the smoke clouding up the second-floor living room, or the aroma: the sweet, pungent smell of marijuana. Up the stairs, Bob Marley's familiar Jamaican lilt bounces from computer speakers, and a brown and white pit bull sprawls across the carpeted floor, gnawing a bone.

In the center of the room, a man sits cross-legged on a gold-colored bean bag, flanked by a computer mouse, an e-cigarette, and a white bowl filled with cannabis. He's folded into a green hockey sweatshirt, and his thick, ropey dreadlocks are tied off his face.

"Hey, pass me that lighter," Jamison Arend says to the guy in the chair next to him, a younger man with loose dreadlocks that hang down to his waist.

Glass Endeavors / Emily Utne
A Rastafarian flag takes up one wall on the second floor of the Arend house
Brian Garrity
A Rastafarian flag takes up one wall on the second floor of the Arend house

"Here, Dad," 16-year-old Jordan replies.

The Arends aren't just stoners holed up at home: They're practicing Rastafarians. Next to the TV hangs the Rastafarian flag — a lion against green, gold, and red stripes — while a black-bound King James Bible rests on the end table at Jamison's left.

When Jamison explains the scriptures' stance on marijuana, his references are wide-ranging. There's an Old Testament recipe for sacred cannabis oil, he rattles off, plus instructions in the Book of Isaiah on praising the lord with a pipe. In the ancient, extra-Biblical text known as the Book of Enoch, there's a passage on the plant itself.

"It starts describing this plant, and it's exactly describing herb," Jamison says. "That it has a smell like no other, that the fruits are like dates, and everything about it."

He reaches into the bowl next to him and pulls out a branch of marijuana. "Is there any question it was talking about this?"

Jordan picks up his father's thread. "What we're doing seems unnecessary to most people," he says, resting his feet on the family dog. "But once it's done, everyone will benefit from it."

The Arends are fighting a crusade of sorts in the Minnesota courts, arguing that their cannabis habit should be a protected religious freedom. No other state "is even close" to allowing a religious-use defense for marijuana-related charges, says Keith Stroup, founder and legal counsel of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

But in Minnesota, the Arends have been able to make inroads. They're supported by the strength of the state constitution, which provides "greater protection" for religious freedoms than the U.S. Constitution, explains Teresa Nelson, the legal director of Minnesota's ACLU chapter.

Those religious protections hinge on a key test: whether a person can show he has a sincerely held religious belief. If he can, the burden shifts to the state to justify its laws.

To the Arends, that first test is a breeze. "If I'm not sincere, then there is no religious person in the state that's sincere," argues Jamison.

Still, he acknowledges that he and his son are unlikely Rastafarians.

"We're misfits among misfits," Jamison admits. "I'm a white guy who's a hockey brat from White Bear Lake. It's kind of about as peculiar as it gets."

Standing in the bathroom after a normal day at work, Jamison suddenly couldn't breathe.

"It felt like someone was putting a pillow over my face," he remembers.

He shouted for his long-time girlfriend, Jill Newstrand, who called 911. By the time the ambulance arrived, Jamison hadn't taken a full breath for minutes, and the whites of his eyes had turned bright crimson.

Jamison was in respiratory arrest. By the time he reached the hospital, doctors had to put him in a coma to stabilize him. For the next three days, medication kept Jamison unconscious while fluid drained from his lungs.

"It was horrible, very traumatic," Newstrand says. "The kids saw it and everything."

When Jamison woke up, he could barely walk or talk.

"It felt like getting mugged from the inside," he says.

For the next month, Jamison worked to recover physically. But it would take him longer to process what he had experienced in the coma.

"I saw a lot of things that I couldn't explain," Jamison says. "Whatever happened to me in there, it changed me."

Before that afternoon in the fall of 2002, Jamison was "living the normal American life," as he describes it. Born in 1974, he grew up in White Bear Lake and went to Lutheran services with his family every Sunday. As an adult, he and Newstrand had three boys together, and Jamison bought the family a five-bedroom home with his earnings as a drywaller.

"He looked totally different than he does now," says John Arend, his younger brother. "He had a shaved head, and you couldn't get him off the golf course."

For about a year after he awoke from the coma, Jamison tried to maintain the life he had known. But one afternoon, after listening to his mother drop her regular "subtle hints" about living a Christian life, Jamison asked her for a Bible.

The one she got for him was a deluxe version, and had scholars' interpretations typed out beneath the scripture. Jamison had always smoked marijuana — "since I was young" — and one night, he went into the family's garage, lit his pipe, and started reading. The cannabis became a conduit for deeper understanding.

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32 comments
TheConservativeJerk
TheConservativeJerk topcommenter

I grew up with JamI and I have known Jordan all his life.  Jami lived with me while he was recovering from his near death experience in 2002, relating to his asthma.    It is what it is, Jami is true to himself and his religious beliefs.  We occasionally go back and forth on religious differences of opinion.  But it is as I say, his beliefs are not phony or fabricated for legal positioning of this or any case.  

Know this, Jill, the Ex, ya I also know her.   I know who she is, or was, and how she raised her kids.  For her to come out and say what she was quoted to say in this story is mind boggling.   "potheads" she calls her own kids.   Jill, you were the stay at home mom that smoked as much or more than Jami.   Woman, if that is anyone's fault, it's yours.  Why wouldn't you love your kids for who they have become?  You were a major player and influence in their becoming.  

@digitalprotocolyou should respect the religious freedoms provided in the first amendment, as it also provides you the ability to chime in on which you don't believe and apparently know.  Without those basic rights, someone might just have the right to cut your tongue from a mouth for beliefs in "man made climate change," or parade your head around as a gift to mother earth.   Freedom was the #1 reason people originally founded this land.  (The wave of religious persecution across Europe)   Example: King Henry VIII  

Even if you choose not to believe, religion is useful to keep civility in societies.  Could you imagine what the world would look like if there was no fear of the life one leads and how that reflects upon them in death?  

mohanlon3
mohanlon3

The whole point of freedom of religion means that nobody else gets to decide the validity of your beliefs, or LEGISLATE them.  I was given wine as a child in a holy sacrament in the RCC.  That's giving a drug to a child and happens millions of times a week all over the country.  That drug is dangerous and regulated for good reason, but I can have it as part of a religious sacrament.  Many non-catholics see the RCC as a cult, just ask Martin Luther.  The farce here is that a simple weed that is far less harmful than wine is illegal at all.  These folks may be off base compared to someone raised in the Rasta faith in Jamaican culture, likewise my American version of being a catholic is very different from that of an Italian native.  I no longer practice Catholicism, it isn't a belief for me.  I fail to see any difference from my own experience and that of the folks detailed here.  They should have the right to their practices no matter how absurd they may seem to an outsider.  Much respect to the Rastas, they are the only folks who don't overcharge for their weed.

spiritleaf
spiritleaf

Some of the expert commenters in here might want to look a little closer before speaking.

Do you put "religion" in quotes like a joke when referring to your own or that of your family?  Very disrespectful.

Immaturity?  Try debating religion with Rev. Arend and see just how immature he is.  Go ahead... make his day.

Narcotize?  When did Cannabis become a narcotic?

Smirk?  You judge a man by his lack of vanity in not saying cheese?  Are you for real?

Embarrassed?  Jordan stood his ground before Babylon and held to his faith in the face of persecution itself... and won.  In the photo above he is standing proudly in front of a RastafarI flag of his own free will along side his Father, speaking to a reporter about his faith.  He is as far from embarrassed as one can get.

Allowing a child to do any drug is unconscionable?  First, you're unaware of RastafarI passage into adulthood which is not defined by Babylon.  And if Babylon had it's way with the man he'd no doubt be on several prescribed, mind-bending, actual drugs.  His family prefers a harmless plant in alignment with the law of JAH.

Dan Black observed the facts before commenting so he'd have something intelligent to say.  Thank you Dan.

Perhaps if anyone cares to ASK some kind, thoughtful, serious questions... those with knowledge might answer and help you overstand.

peter_hillock
peter_hillock

I'm a liberal and in favor of legalizing cannabis-- but if anything could turn me into a Republican prohibitionist, it would be the spectacle of this clown with no sense of boundaries or responsibility using "religion" to hide from the consequences of his immaturity, including encouraging an adolescent to narcotize himself. This reads like a character study by Jonathan Franzen, letting the characters' own words and actions show what a sad mental world they live in. Even the photos: who smirks like that but someone who thinks he's fooling his audience? At least his son still has the decency to look embarrassed.

Angelic93152551
Angelic93152551

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thumbsopposed
thumbsopposed

I want to hear more from the anonymous Jamaican immigrant who calls this guy out for being full of it. 

sosmpls
sosmpls

Allowing a child to do any drug is unconscionable. Once you are an adult, and can afford your own weed, if you can still lead a productive life, by all means puff away. IMEO

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

just an observation...  how does someone who gets high all the time believe in god. that is so counter intuitive if you smoke weed. it allows you to see through the facade and realize the shams


shim sham

Meredith Friesz
Meredith Friesz

I used to know this guy too, when he was a golfer. He is sincere. Hey Jamie!

dinnieloius
dinnieloius

i was amused by the writer's verbiage throughout the article.."bluntly" "hashed" lol

Dan Black
Dan Black

You people are all ignorant. I know this guy... he knows more about the Bible than any Christian I've ever met, including priests/pastors. He takes his religion very seriously.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

anybody who has any religious affiliation is a fkn idiot 

anybody who censors my free speech is a fkn idiot

for all the shit CP writes, my sole comment bashing religion of any kind is redacted!

waht a fkn joke...just like this family of losers


fuck off and die

Edward Bertsch
Edward Bertsch

Haile Selassie is God? Yeah. Not so much. Rastafarianism is more than just smoking Jah herb. But not for these two, I'm sure.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

religion is a joke- this article is an expirement in creative writing i.e. its SHIT

Kathy Drews
Kathy Drews

this article lost me when he went off on his sisters boyfriend and workers installing egress windows in HER basement. Lame excuses and convoluted beliefs just to smoke weed.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@spiritleaf you are clearly a sympathizer of this fool. 

religion is stupid and ought to be ridiculed. 

shatter, wax and what not have narcotic effects as do many indica strains


this shit is pathetic and shame on you for endorsing the laws of JAH - some made up dicknosed diety - GTFO 


we judge for far less, but this guy is dumb

thumbsopposed
thumbsopposed

@Dan Black If the biblical interpretation he offers in the other article on the City Pages blog this week is any indication, he is not at all knowledgeable about biblical scholarship.  Everything he says in that article is absolute nonsense.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@Dan Black religion is not serious, its a joke...thats the point of ridicule

truckmeyer
truckmeyer

@digitalprotocol Yes, yes.  All good points, sir.  

Especially "
fuck off and die"  Stunning eloquence. You don't even allow punctuation to slow you down.

You really should be making policy at some high level for the good of society.  

thumbsopposed
thumbsopposed

@Connor McDanzz Indeed.  Can you imagine a Jamaican person actually being able to use the length of his dreadlocks as a defense in court?  There is no way in hell a person of color would be taken seriously on that one.  This whole article is basically whiteprivilege.txt



allyourbasearebelong
allyourbasearebelong

@Kathy Drews Yeah, what was the problem there?  Dude, you're getting a new window, that's pretty cool and stuff.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@Kathy Drews that was the dopest part...the workers installing windows and invading his space

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@truckmeyer if you only knew who i was or how i would yield power.


lets talk nuts and bolts - can this queer kid even throw a fkn ball?

how does having your kid get high with you benifit him?

why are you defending this meaningless bullshit


digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@truckmeyer ya, i wasn't reffering to anything specific...just stating that they are pathetic losers


poser ass posers

 
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