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Man fights charges claiming religious beliefs - Odessa American: News

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Man fights charges claiming religious beliefs

Canuto Jason Tarango sentenced to two years on marijuana charge

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Posted: Monday, April 4, 2016 5:53 pm

An Odessa man on trial for a state jail felony testified in court Monday he should not face prosecution for a drug charge because his religious beliefs, and the Bible, give him permission to smoke marijuana.

However, an Ector County jury found Canuto Jason Tarango guilty of possession of marijuana Monday evening and sentenced him to two years in jail, the maximum allowed under Texas law.

Taking the stand in Judge Denn Whalen’s 70th District Court, Tarango testified he should not be on trial because smoking marijuana is a “God-given right.” Tarango was also charged with prohibited substance in a correction facility, but that charge was dropped before the case was sent to the jury.

“I feel based on my religion and what’s instructed in the Bible, it’s a God-given right,” Tarango said during trial, adding he does not belong to any one denomination, but identifies with a belief that recognizes the four and twenty elders in the book of Revelation as one of many signs promoting marijuana use.

In response, First Assistant Ector County District Attorney Justin Cunningham asked Tarango about Romans 13:1 and how the scripture states people should subject themselves to governing authorities. Tarango testified to be truly spiritual, state and federal laws prohibiting marijuana use make people stray from God and should be abolished.

“If it goes against the laws of God, we have the right, the obligation, to go against these laws,” Tarango testified.

Taragno was originally charged around 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 12, 2014, after being stopped in the 4200 block of North Golder Avenue for having a defective license plate, Odessa Police Department Officer Juliet Bostick testified.

During the traffic stop, a marijuana cigarette was found in Tarango’s lap and more bags of marijuana were found in his vehicle, Bostick said. When asked if he had anymore substances, Bostick testified Tarango said he had a bag in his boxers and was able to take them out while handcuffed.

She added Tarango did not want to be touched by law enforcement officers and fished the bag out while handcuffed.

Cpl. Cory Wester testified Monday he transported Tarango to the Ector County Detention Center and asked him if he had any more items on him. Tarango, Wester testified, told him he did not.

However, during a search in the detention center by jail staff, Wester said a bag of marijuana was found under Tarango’s testicles.

“I advised him if anything was on him, it was an additional felony,” Wester said.

Defense attorney Tony Chavez questioned Sgt. Pete Gonzales, who was also on scene that evening, about why officers did not search Tarango more after he had been detained. Gonzales testified while officers usually do additional searches in drug cases, they could not perform a strip search in public.

Tarango testified he had the marijuana on him during the traffic stop, but said he the marijuana in his boxers — despite his claims it was a sacred plant to him — because he knew he would be charged with having it.

“When you’re being persecuted and facing unethical laws, you try to put it out of sight,” he testified.

Assistant Ector County District Attorneys Clay George and Aurial Wood prosecuted the case.

Odessa, TX

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