It wasn’t exactly the Trial of the Century, but the court case involving the City of Denver and the International Church of Cannabis was expected to be a gripping — and groundbreaking — trial. Instead, the court proceedings fizzled about four hours after they began after the judge declared a mistrial.
Denver charged the unconventional church with violating Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act when the church openly welcomed parishioners to consume marijuana during a private service last April 20, the first day the church opened its doors. The city also charged the church leaders for encouraging public consumption of cannabis.
Denver County Court Judge Fred Rodgers declared a mistrial for church founders Steve Berke, Lee Molloy and Briley Hale after the prosecuting attorneys said they were unable to seat a six-person jury. The trial will be re-scheduled for mid-July unless both sides agree to a plea deal.
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Warren Edson, attorney for the defense, told Westword that he had never seen so many jurors openly disagree with a city attorney’s theory on cannabis. “Basically [the city attorneys] ran out of jurors that they think can be fair to the city,” Edson said. “Hopefully this is a wake-up call for the city that this isn’t the open-and-shut matter that they think that it is.”
After preliminary juror interviews by attorneys on both sides, the judge declared that the jury pool of 24, which was shaved down to 15, was not large enough. “Each side had six pre-emptory challenges,” Edson said. “So if you take 12 away from 15, we didn’t have six.”
One prospective juror wondered aloud if this prosecution of a church was worth the tax dollars being spent on the case. Another member of the jury pool took issue with the number of police detectives (seven) on the prosecution’s witness list.
The church claims it has 5,000 members. Church leaders insist they will still hold consumption-friendly ceremonies on Friday nights for members only.