The Nebraska Court of Appeals has ruled against a York woman who described her home as “The Temple of Zion,” called herself its high priest and said marijuana “is the tree of life. It contains the spirit of God.”
“When you get high, you get God, so that you are with him when you are high,” Brenda L. Hines, 53, said during her trial, according to the court’s opinion, which was released Tuesday.
The opinion affirmed Hines’ convictions on charges of possessing marijuana with intent to deliver, possessing oxycodone with intent to deliver, possessing clonazepam with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug trafficking place. She was sentenced to two to four years in prison.
According to the opinion, on Nov. 28, 2014, York police executed a search warrant at Hines’ home, finding several pill bottles, marijuana and paraphernalia consistent with marijuana distribution.
During the trial, Hines argued that her drug distribution was part of her exercise of religion. She said the temple was established so she could “fulfill God’s wish and help stop the pain and suffering.” The pills were given to her by her followers, she said, and she would give them to other followers who needed them.
Asked about religious services at her temple, she said: “We gather together. We have a sacred circle. We share our marijuana between ourselves. ... When we are high, we are with God.”
She also said that her followers take marijuana home with them because her religion is not a “go-to-church-on-Sunday” religion, but “when you need God, you smoke a bowl, so it’s not a religious sacrament.”
A charge of possession of acetaminophen/oxycodone with intent to deliver was dropped. She was found not guilty of possessing drug money.
In her appeal, Hines claimed that her sentences were excessive and that they violated her right to freely exercise her religion.
Examining the excessiveness claim, the court noted that she would be eligible for parole after serving about a year and cited a pre-sentence investigation that said Hines had a substance-abuse problem but no desire for treatment.
“She took no responsibility for her actions and attempted to justify her actions as a drug dealer based on her religious beliefs,” the opinion states.
The court did not address her freedom of religion claim because, it said, she did not make an argument on the matter.
“She merely states that she has a right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but fails to argue or cite to any authority in regard to how the sentences imposed by the trial court violated that right,” the opinion reads.
Her public defender did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.