A Hamilton judge has hammered Church of the Universe founders Reverend Brother Walter Tucker and Reverend Brother Michael Baldasaro, sentencing them to hefty jail terms and ordering the seizure of their east-Hamilton headquarters. In a strongly worded decision, Superior Court Justice John Cavarzan said, “544 Barton Street East is a marijuana convenience store that operates for profit like a prohibition-era speakeasy, but disguised as a church.” Cavarzan sentenced Baldasaro, 58, to two years in a federal penitentiary on two counts of marijuana trafficking, involving about 2.5 grams worth $30. He handed Tucker, 75, a 12-month jail sentence for three counts of trafficking, involving $40 worth of pot.
The spiritual leaders of a rag-tag group of followers were convicted by a jury in November after selling small quantities of marijuana to an undercover police officer. Church members call marijuana the Tree of Life and smoke it as a sacrament. The female officer took out a $25 membership in the church and bought the sacrament five times from May 2003 to February 2004.
Cavarzan ordered their church headquarters forfeited to the Crown as “offence-related property” under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The jailed pair have 30 days to remove their personal effects from the building, comprising a storefront and four upper-floor apartments. Tucker and Baldasaro established the Church of the Universe in 1969 at a former quarry in Puslinch, which they called Clearwater Abbey. Since that time, they have ceaselessly advocated for the legalization and recognition of marijuana as a socially beneficial and and health-giving herb. But Cavarzan stressed this was not a case of simple possession, but of drug trafficking, which the Supreme Court of Canada has stated is a serious offence. He noted that the pair ran a commercial enterprise that had attracted violent crime in the past, including the attempted robbery of Tucker by two armed men looking for his cache.
Tucker, who is hard of hearing, told the judge he was disappointed at being sent to a provincial jail while Baldasaro would be serving federal time. Placing his arm around his longtime friend, Tuckers asked, “Why don’t you sentence me to the same time as Reverend Baldasaro? Because if he deserves two years, then I deserve it too.”
– Click here for the Church of the Universe beliefs and mandate
– Click here for the Wikipedia entry for “Church of the Universe”
– Click here for a Cannabis Culture Magazine article from 1999 about the Reverends’ early challenges and mission