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By Catherine McNaught, Panama City News Herald, July 27, 1994
At times during his trial in April, James Tranmer could not contain his contempt for the testimony that convicted him of conspiring to import thousands of pounds of marijuana into Panama City. At his sentencing Tuesday, he said his piece, heedless of the consequences.
The 35-year sentence U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier gave him might have been shorter, his attorney later said, had Tranmer bitten his tongue. But Tranmer told Collier he'll be happy to serve every one of the 12,775 days in support of his religious beliefs. "I'm an herb man, I've always been an herb man for more than 30 years," said Tranmer, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, shoulder length gray hair combed straight back, looking like someone's hip grandfather.
"The herb is a sacrament: ganja is my sacrament ... America is a sick nation spiritually ... you cannot win this fight against marijuana. If you fight against the herb, you fight against creation."
Tranmer, a priest in the Ethiopian Zion Coptic church, told Collier in a voice shaking with anger and conviction, "I will take anything you give me for ganja. You can't take ganja away from the people. Ganja is what is given by God for the people, and you can't take that away from them."
Tranmer's wife testified at the trial that members of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church use marijuana as a sacrament, but expert testimony on the religion was not allowed.
A 12-member jury convicted Tranmer and Eden Churchill Chin April 24 of conspiracy to import marijuana. Last minute maneuvering Tuesday by Tranmer's attorney, Assistant U.S. Defender Rod Vereen, saved Tranmer from receiving a life sentence.
At issue was the amount of marijuana Tranmer knew his son was planning to smuggle into the U.S. Vereen said Tranmer thought the load would be 2,000 pounds. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Lowe said Tranmer was in on the decision to up the stakes to 5,000 pounds. But when all the transcripts of testimony during the three-day trial were transcribed and reviewed, nowhere to be found was testimony that Tranmer knew anything about the 3,000-pound increase. That made the difference between 35 years and life in the federal sentencing guidelines.
"The irony of it is 420 months is a long time, but it's better than life," Vereen said of his 50-something client. When asked if Tranmer considered the sentence religious persecution, Vereen said only, "Yeah, he thinks it is." Tranmer and Chin were convicted of masterminding and bank-rolling Brian Tranmer's maiden marijuana smuggling passage to Jamaica, where the younger Tranmer was reared.
The issue of religion was not allowed at trial, but Vereen says he'll be filing an appeal and a motion for a new trial because of newly discovered evidence.
One of the women aboard the ship testified that Tranmer wired his son several thousand dollars when the smuggling vessel needed repairs, but a wire receipt shows Tranmer was not the one who sent the money.
Vereen also said he intends to include insufficient evidence, an inconsistent verdict and perjured testimony as grounds for appeal. "They say the punishment should fit the crime, but I don't know about this one," Vereen said before leaving the courthouse.
The July 27 News Herald story of "Coptic Priest," Jim Tranmer, should be an inspiration to all of us, especially our children. I have heard a lot about the Reefer Madness type of inaccurate information about cannabis being spread through our public schools by groups like DARE and PRIDE. Most young people are wise enough to at least consider why someone would "gladly" go to prison for 35 years in defense of a plant they believed was a gift from God. Only the more stubborn adults will continue to ignore the obvious truth that Jim spoke so eloquently when he warned that America cannot win a war against creation. Perhaps instead of "turning in" their parents, friends and family, the kids will get the message this time. Any good Bible student could easily inform the "Drug Task Force" that the real "source" of all that "marijuana" is revealed in the story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis at Verse 29. Robert Lawrence Fountain, Florida Panama City News Herald, Sunday, July 30, 1994.
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