Courts & Crime

Judges don't buy couple's pot defense: It was for church

The Alaska Court of Appeals has rejected a couple's defense to marijuana charges that they were cultivating 50 plants because they were members of the United Global Mankind Divine Maintenance and Direction religion and used the plants' oils to cleanse themselves.

The three-member court said Michael and Maria Lineker's religious beliefs were insincere, according to the decision released this week. 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.

Michael Lineker, now 64, and his wife, now 49, were arrested in Craig in 2003 and charged with marijuana possession. The plants were in a hidden room behind a freezer in their home, according to previous media reports. Police found no paraphernalia related to smoking, ingesting or selling the cannabis in the couple's home, according to court documents.

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 of the U.S. Constitution. 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.

The lower court 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 decision backed the lower court's 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."


Related stories from McClatchy DC