Steve Berke, a founder of Denver’s International Church of Cannabis, was found guilty on two counts today - public marijuana consumption and violating the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. He was sentenced to pay a $71 fine.
The criminal verdict was the culmination of a legal battle stemming from the church’s first 420 celebration, nearly two years ago.
A judge declared a mistrial in the case a year ago due to a lack of jurors. At the time, some potential jurors openly questioned the point of devoting city resources to the case.
Berke was quick to talk of appeal shortly after the sentencing on Friday.
"This is a private property, it was an invitation-only, spiritual religious assembly, and for them to come with an undercover operation, into a church, and claim that we were doing anything wrong?” he said. “I have a constitutional right to practice my religion."
The city’s argument hinged on the idea that Berke, while not filmed by undercover officers consuming weed himself, was “complicit” in the illegal consumption of marijuana. Covert video did capture participants at the event clearly smoking marijuana.
What made the consumption illegal, the city argued, was that some undercover officers were able to get into the event without an invitation. Current law considers marijuana consumption technically legal at a private event by invitation of some kind.
Berke and fellow founder Lee Molloy insisted that they had done their due diligence by consulting with the city when it came to compliance.
“I was hoping that we’d get some kind of decision today that meant that myself and [church co-founder] Briley Hale were not going to have to go through this again, but apparently we are,” Molloy said.
The two will stand trial for similar charges later this month.