Alaska court rejects religious defense in drug case

Monday, January 25, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Court of Appeals has rejected a religion defense in the drug case of a Craig couple who anointed themselves with a mixture of marijuana juice and olive oil.

Michael and Maria Lineker said they cultivated plants as members of the United Global Mankind Divine Maintenance and Direction religion and used plant oils to cleanse themselves.

On Jan. 20, the three-judge appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the Linekers’ religious beliefs were insincere. In Lineker v. Alaska, the majority agreed with the trial judge in Juneau who concluded that the Linekers made it up.

The Linekers were arrested in 2003 on marijuana-possession charges after 50 plants were found hidden behind a freezer in their home.

Reserving the right to appeal, they pleaded no contest — he to fourth-degree misconduct with a controlled substance, she to fourth-degree attempted misconduct, according to previous news-media reports. She was given a suspended sentence, and he served seven days in jail.

Chief Judge Robert Coats and Judge Joel Bolger agreed in the majority opinion. Judge David Mannheimer dissented, saying the court has to be careful in judging someone's unorthodox religion.

The couple claimed their religion generally prescribed abstaining from alcohol and drugs but required them to cleanse and anoint themselves in the oils of marijuana plants. Michael Lineker said the plants had to be grown in a very specific way, then a hand juicer was used to extract the liquids. He would then douse his body with a one-to-one mix of marijuana juice and olive oil until it was all absorbed.

His wife described the anointment as spiritually fulfilling but also “a little messy,” according to the majority opinion written by Coats.

Religious freedom is protected by the First Amendment, but the Juneau trial court judge, Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks, concluded the Linekers had made up their beliefs. At the time, he said, Michael Lineker's “speech and manner under oath left the court with a firm conviction that as he was testifying he was making it up as he went along,” according to court documents.

Weeks also said, “There is no credible recognition of some force or power beyond the personal that is themselves (the Linekers). Their God is themselves.”

The appeals court backed Weeks' conclusion: “In Alaska, some people's spiritual solace may be to go into the wilderness and commune with nature. Smoking a little dope or absorbing it through the skin … may or may not turn it into a more pleasurable experience. (But it) does not turn it into a religious experience.”

Mannheimer in his dissent said, “Courts must be circumspect when determining whether a person's set of beliefs constitutes a 'religion.'”

Mannheimer said Weeks didn't assess the sincerity issue correctly. The trial judge compared the Linekers' views to standard religious beliefs, not taking into account the unorthodoxy of their religion.

They have the option of taking the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

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