Holy smoke: Rastafarians toke for a higher power

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

"Without it," Jamison says, "it would have been impossible to tap into all of this."

Over the next two years, Jamison went through "two or three Bibles," John says, filling up the margins with hand-scribbled notes. He started branching out into other scriptures, and piled everything from the Koran to early Gnostic writings in a "treasure chest" in the family's kitchen.

Trying to help his quest, a friend suggested he check out a book known as the Kebra Nagast, an ancient text about the origins of the Ethiopian Emperors, sometimes called the Rastafarian bible. Jamison found it at a Barnes & Noble. Once he started reading it, "I couldn't even drive," he says. "I was like, 'This is what all of this has been trying to show me.'"

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

Not long after, Jamison applied a perm to his unruly hair, and with the help of the chemicals, twisted his strands into fledgling dreadlocks.

For three years, Jamison studied scripture by night and kept up with his drywall job by day, even though his company occasionally drug-tested employees.

Then one day, his boss called him in to the office for a surprise: Jamison had won a company contest for a new motorcycle.

While they waited to finalize the details, Jamison took a seat across his boss's desk, and listened as the man started talking about his kids' baptism. Though he hadn't planned to bring it up, the conversation sparked thoughts about his own new belief. The way he remembers it, he slipped in a reference to federal laws that require employers to make exemptions for religious people at work, like providing a prayer room.

Then he went for it: He told his boss that because of his religion, he should be exempt from the company's drug tests for marijuana.

"I said something like, 'I'm not telling you I want to sit here and smoke giant bongs at work,'" Jamison remembers. "But I don't want to hear from a company that serves alcohol at every function that I can't practice my religion when I go home, in privacy."

His boss got quiet, Jamison remembers, and changed the subject. But, Jamison says, "that was the last time I ever ran a job for them."

Once a company star, Jamison got laid off the next year. He tried to work odd jobs, but without his union pay, the family couldn't keep up with mortgage payments. In June 2008, they lost their house to foreclosure.

"It destroyed my financial life," Jamison says. "But when this thing comes calling, you don't say no."

In January 2010, Jamison arrived home ready to get out of his sister's basement.

He'd been living in her Maplewood rambler for a year and a half, but the arrangement had soured, and Jamison had until the end of the day to move out. He didn't have much stuff — mostly just clothes, a TV, and a bed — and he walked into his basement room prepared to quickly finish packing. But instead of his piled belongings, he saw his sister's boyfriend and the man's cousin installing egress windows, concrete saws in hand.

Jamison sized up the situation quickly: "These people had lethal weapons in their hands and they were invading my space."

The way Jamison remembers it, he yelled at them to leave. "I'm sure it was very colorful," Jamison admits. "I said a few things I shouldn't have."

The men didn't reply, so Jamison stepped out of the room. When he returned, he was brandishing his six-iron golf club.

"I told 'em, 'You're leaving right now,'" Jamison says.

When they still didn't respond, Jamison swung at the window pane and broke it. He threatened that if they didn't leave, they'd be next.

This time, the men fled. But when they walked out of the bedroom, they called the cops.

Jamison was charged with assault and making terroristic threats. Two months later, he walked into a sentencing hearing at the Ramsey County Courthouse.

Bruce Wenger, Jamison's public defender, remembers that his client wanted to raise a "very unusual" request. Wenger, an attorney for 30 years and a public defender for 18, figured he'd give it a shot.

"My client is a Rastafarian," Wenger began once the hearing was underway. His client's religious practices, Wenger argued, should exempt him from the standard drug tests while on probation.

Judge Judith Tilsen took a moment to reply. First, she handed down Jamison's sentence: She nixed the assault charge, but still punished him with 30 days in jail and up to five years probation. Then she got to the terms of that probation.

Jamison didn't have to be drug tested for marijuana, Tilsen ordered. And if by chance he was, then a positive for marijuana would not violate his probation.

"The defense has proven a colorable claim of religious right to ceremonial use of cannabis," she explained in the legal jargon, before further breaking down her rationale: If she ordered Jamison to quit smoking, Tilsen said, she worried, "I would be setting you up."

"Is that clear to you?" Tilsen asked Jamison in court that day.

"Very," he replied.

Today, Tilsen explains the sentencing decision: "The charges had nothing to do with drugs," she says. "It was never litigated or addressed directly, and it wasn't relevant in that case. I try to make the sentence fit the crime."

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33 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

jaywmck
jaywmck

@thumbsopposed I know a ton of black rasta elders that council white rastas. I also know many white rastas who organize SERIOUSLY needed fund for a Rasta Elders in Jamaica. Rastafari is global. and Rastafari in Jamaica are supportive of that.  If you'd like to donate to Rasta elders and help a global movement achieve its goal, then please do so at http://wordsoundpowercollective.blogspot.com/

 
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