Marijuana-Smoking Minister Jailed Three Months

Reverend Brother Shahrooz Kharaghani smiled, his rainbow-coloured religious beanie firmly fixed on his head, as court officers led him away to jail.

A judge had just sentenced the Church of the Universe minister to three months for possessing three kilograms of cannabis for sale, having $6,397 in proceeds, and selling pot to two undercover officers.

But Kharaghani, 32, told reporters he will never give up smoking marijuana, an activity he regards as a sacrament.

“My continuous consumption of cannabis … in reverence, will continue,” he said outside court before he was sentenced Monday.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman said she accepts that Kharaghani, who sold pot from the group’s Beach-area storefront church, was not motivated by profit and believes his activities were benign.

“However, there were likely people who lived in the vicinity who do not share his views,” Herman said.

Kharaghani will serve 2-1/2 months after credit for pretrial custody.

Crown prosecutor Nick Devlin had originally recommended a six-month community sentence, likely to involve one or two months of house arrest and some form of community service.

But Kharaghani’s lawyer, George Filipovic, told the sentencing hearing earlier this month that given house arrest, his client would immediately smoke pot to commune with God, which would mean violating a condition to “keep the peace and be of good behaviour.”

The breach would land Kharaghani in jail, so he might as well go to jail straightaway, Filipovic argued.

Kharaghani and co-accused Peter Styrsky, 53, are ministers in the Assembly of the Church of the Universe, which has an estimated 4,000 members across Canada.

Their case dates back to 2006, when two undercover officers joined the church using fake names and purchased marijuana there.

Styrsky has already been sentenced to a six-month jail term, but was immediately released because of credits for pre-trial custody.

At their trial, the two men lost their constitutional challenge, on religious grounds, of Canada’s pot laws.

Herman ruled that group members were earnest in their beliefs and agreed their religious rights were being limited.

But the judge dismissed their challenge because she did not think it was possible to create a workable religious exemption to Canada’s pot-smoking and selling prohibitions.

Both men will appeal Herman’s constitutional ruling, Filipovic told reporters outside court.

Filipovic said the judge’s decision dooms two religions to destruction, his client’s and the Rastafarians, who also make spiritual use of cannabis.

Filipovic said his client is destined to a life in and out of jail because he will never give up smoking pot.

Devlin, who prosecuted the case with Donna Polgar, told reporters the court found that there are no religious exemptions to the crime of pot selling.

“Members of the community can be satisfied that the courts won’t permit people to set up residential drug convenience stores in their neighbourhoods whether under the guise of a religion or otherwise,” Devlin said.

– Article from The Toronto Star.

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