|Graphic: Clint JCL|
Self-proclaimed “marijuana minister” Steven Swallick of Brevard County, Fla., was sentenced today to two years in prison.
Swallick, who was arrested in May 2008 after police said they found more than 100 marijuana plants growing in his Palm Bay, Fla., home, says he is the minister of a church called The Hawai’i Cannabis Ministry (THC Ministry).
“Cultivation and enjoyment of Cannabis sacrament is a fundamental human right provided by God and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” THC Ministry says on its website.
Police had testified they found dried marijuana inside Swallick’s oven and in baskets on top of kitchen cabinets.
Rev. Swallick, 53, showed no visible reaction upon his sentencing, according to WFTV. During his testimony in the trial last month, he had worn a white priest collar and a black suit jacket and shirt, with a black cross hanging from a black-beaded necklace.
|Rev. Steven Swallick: Sentenced to two years|
Circuit Judge Jim Earp wouldn’t allow Swallick to testify about his use of marijuana for religious purposes. But he testified outside the jury’s presence, as part of a motion asking a judge to allow evidence of his religious practice, which he said includes the use of cannabis.
“I do inhale it,” he said, according to Florida Today. “I do use it as an anointing oil. I do ingest it as a food product. There are over 25,000 beneficial uses for the plant.”
In addition to his two-year prison term, Swallick faces three years of probation, including monthly screening for marijuana use. He will also be forbidden from placing any equipment used to grow plants inside his home, WFTV reported.
It had taken a jury only 14 minutes to convict Swallick on Nov. 5.
“I have no doubt that he will continue his faith, whether the practice will involve that, I do not know,” said Swallick’s lawyer, Gregory Schwendeman.
“He can’t grow marijuana and distribute it in the community, and if he continues to do that then he’ll go back to prison,” self-righteous prosecutor Bill Respess threatened.
“I am all for religious use of cannabis and I believe many people’s sincerity when they call it a sacrament,” said “Radical Russ” Belville of NORML on Nov. 5, when Swallick was convicted. “I don’t think anyone should be arrested or locked up for any use of cannabis, whether you think it’s holy or whether you just think it’s gnarly, dude. But all the ‘it’s my religion’ claim is ever going to get you in an American court is a nice quiet cell and plenty of time to read your holy book.”
Prosecutors said they gave Swallick a relatively “light” sentence, in part because he had no prior convictions. He could have gotten up to 10 years in prison.