Holy smoke: Rastafarians toke for a higher power

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

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.

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

"They are anything but railroaded into this," Jamison says of his kids. "Any day, they know they can cut their hair off, they can go find Jesus or whatever."

But while the Arends fight a case that revolves around whether their beliefs are true, even other Rastas question their sincerity.

"The Court of Appeals gives him the right, but who is his teacher? Who does he sit with?" asks a Jamaican who immigrated to the Twin Cities 30 years ago, and grew up steeped in Rasta culture. "I can count the real Rastas around Minneapolis on the fingers of my hands, and the majority of them are just commercial."

Without knowing the Arends directly, he gives his take: "They're what I call rent-a-dreads."

Mark Berkson, a professor who heads the religion department at Hamline University, finds the religious nuances fascinating. But ultimately, he points out, the courts have to make a blunter judgment. Unable to measure a person's soul, they must go on the evidence presented to them.

"You could have debates about, is Jamison Arend really Rasta all day," Berkson says. "What's key here, though, is that it's irrelevant legally."

In White Bear Lake, Newstrand wipes her blond bangs away from her eyes. "Religious freedoms are a good thing," she says, stroking the pit bull on the couch next to her. "But because they're there, they can get taken advantage of."

Two days after the Court of Appeals decision, Jamison and Kemp are sitting in a small conference room in Kemp's office, still marveling at their victory.

"No one thought we were going to win here, even you," Jamison teases Kemp.

His lawyer replies: "I just told you, don't get your hopes too high."

"Yeah," Jamison says. "But this is what happens when the truth's on your side."

As they hash out their win, they start puzzling out what's next. The Ramsey County Attorney's Office has 30 days to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case, Kemp explains.

"What's the odds you think the Supreme Court would take it anyway?" Jamison muses.

"I don't know," Kemp replies, then breaks the news: Though they have a month to file the paperwork, the prosecutors have already announced that they will appeal.

"While we respect the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals," First Assistant Ramsey County Attorney John Kelly says in a statement, "we will appeal it by filing a petition for review with the Minnesota Supreme Court."

In Kemp's office, Jamison pauses for a moment, processing the new information. "Really?" he asks, and rocks back on his chair. "That's too bad."

The two toss around some ideas of what might lie ahead. The first step, Kemp explains, it to argue that the Supreme Court shouldn't hear the case at all.

"All right," Jamison replies. "Well, no fear."

Jamison and Kemp agree to meet again soon. As he steps out of the law office, Jamison shakes his dreadlocked head.

"So they're really going to appeal," he says, half to himself. Then his confidence springs back: "Huh. You know what? Good."

"I think they think there are so few of us that they can just step on us, but the higher this goes, the better," he continues, his voice rising again.

"You're going to see a lot more dreadlocks in the state of Minnesota."

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