Sonora father and son team up in angst

August 27, 2003 11:00 pm

By ABBY SOUZA

Christopher DeMars, a self-proclaimed minister, and his son, Christopher — not junior — protested in Sonora's Courthouse Park a few weekends ago.

They weren't speaking against the Iraq war or the recall election or the serving of irradiated meat to school children. They were demonstrating for something they feel has been taken from them and many others in California: the right to use medicinal marijuana.

"The whole street was packed. And only about 3 percent of people who passed by spat at me. The rest were like this," the elder DeMars said, holding his thumb up with a big smile on his face.

DeMars refers to himself as "the reverend" and says he is the pastor of the "Church of Work," a 150-member congregation he says meets irregularly at his Sonora Meadows home.

He won't say who ordained him or if he studied theology.

His congregation — which includes his son, a University of California, Santa Barbara, grad — is "labor based." Members, the elder DeMars said, find spiritual value in various projects involving physical labor.

But much of DeMars' time is devoted to the plight of those who take marijuana for medical reasons.

At 48, DeMars suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. He said he has double vision and chronic pain from his middle back all the way to his toes.

"And I've had a pounding migraine headache for the past 20 years," he said.

To treat the pain, DeMars smokes marijuana that he grows for his own use. But he said deputies have come more than a dozen times to his home and have arrested him once.

Proposition 215 in 1996 gave Californians the right to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes and with a doctor's permission.

Each county sets its own rules for how many plants a patient can grow. In Tuolumne County, that number is three.

In September of 1999, said the elder DeMars, he was arrested after drug agents found 45 small plants during a search.