Holy smoke: Rastafarians toke for a higher power

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

Side by side in the imposing hall, father and son looked like twins in matching outfits: blue jeans and white button-downs purchased the night before at Target. Long ropes of tangled hair twisted down their backs — Jamison's tied into a ponytail and Jordan's hanging loose — with both sets of dreadlocks covered by red, yellow, and green knit caps pulled over the tops of their heads. They were in the heart of the Babylon system: They had to cover their crowns.

When they walked into the courtroom just before 10 a.m., everyone else was wearing a suit. Three Court of Appeals judges filed in, and Kemp stood to deliver his argument. If Rasta requires Jordan to have a pipe on him at some times, Kemp asked the court, then what should he do with it the rest of the time? He explained again that for Jordan, the pipe served as a reminder of his religion — like the Christian rosary.

When Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Ragatz stepped up, he pushed back. If the pipe was a reminder, he asked, then where should the state draw the line? What about "a hand grenade with a cannabis leaf on it?"

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

As the lawyers dueled, the three judges peppered them with questions. After Ragatz raised the specter of a holy hand grenade, Judge Carol Hooten interjected.

"I understand your argument, but in this case, the court found that Rasta is a religion," she said. "I think he very clearly testifies it's to remind him of his religion. If that's his testimony, and this ceremony is a big part of the religion, how is this any different than carrying around a rosary?"

When oral arguments ended, the Arends, Kemp, and a friend decamped to a Keys Café down the street for coffee and breakfast.

"Have you ever had the jelly here?" Jamison asked as the odd group — two guys in dreadlocks, two others in suits — settled in around a table. "I'm telling you dude, it's killer. Killer."

As the group unpacked their day in court — "really good job, man," Jamison told Kemp — they also prepared for a long wait: The judges had up to three months to issue their decision.

"I have faith things will be all right," Jamison said over his eggs. "I think all of this is in the stars. There's something bigger going on, that's all I know."

Two months later — on September 23, 2013 — the decision came in early. Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks authored the unpublished opinion.

Jordan argues that he established "a firmly held belief worthy of protection," Halbrooks wrote. "We agree," she ruled, reversing the lower court.

Halbrooks ran through the evidence of Jordan's sincerity, including his comments that the colors on his pipe — "red for the blood of the martyrs, yellow for the sun that grows the greens, the sacred herb," as Jordan explained at trial — were themselves a religious reminder.

As she dissected the state's argument, Halbrooks chastised the prosecutors for conflating two laws, and for treating Jordan's pipe as though it were marijuana. She even fired a warning shot: The Minnesota Constitution could protect religious use of marijuana itself. That question is still open, Halbrooks noted; Minnesota courts haven't addressed it.

When Kemp read the decision, "I was very pleased," he says, with a grin on his face. "I'm not sure a court has ever done this before."

Jamison is less measured: "It's not only the decision, it's the language in the decision," he says, sitting in his living room. "It's beautiful."

Jill Newstrand settles into a plaid couch in her father's house, a split-level near a pond in White Bear Lake. Her dangling silver earrings bounce as she begins to talk about her oldest son.

Look, she says, this is the last picture I have of him. She gets up and walks over to a small table next to the kitchen, piled with photos of her kids, and picks up a three-year old photo of Jordan circa eighth-grade school picture day.

"His dreads were just starting to grow," Newstrand says, brushing a hand over Jordan's unsmiling face. "The whole thing makes me absolutely sick. I've watched my children go from kind, loving, compassionate kids to quote-unquote potheads."

And it's not just the pot, Newstrand explains: It's that now she sees her kids as angry and directionless.

When Jamison first started digging into the Bible, Newstrand was interested in it herself. Raised Evangelical, she found that Rasta's tenets of non-materialism and love appealed to her.

"It was one of the very few religions I felt like I could relate to," Newstrand says. "But I don't believe that I raised these kids Rasta."

While she used to smoke herself, Newstrand says she was never okay with her kids using marijuana. Around the time she and Jamison split, she started catching Jordan "getting high and playing Call of Duty, like every other teenager," not smoking as a sacrament.

"He does it because he idolizes his dad," Newstrand argues. "In my eyes, he's brainwashed on a daily basis."

Both Jamison and Jordan are furious to hear Newstrand's opinion, and say that it's based on nothing more than bad blood.

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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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