Drug Law

Religious Defense of Marijuana Use Tossed from Court

| by NORML
By "Cannabis Karri"

Using a religious defense for use of marijuana in Canada might not take you any farther that it would in the states. A judge has thrown out a legal challenge that claimed Canada’s marijuana laws violates the freedom of religion provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Two Toronto men who are both reverends in a group called the Church of the Universe took up the challenge in their defense of marijuana trafficking. The men allegedly sold marijuana to undercover police officers in 2006. The amount of marijuana sold was a small quantity, and the two officers involved were posing as members of the church.

Since the church uses marijuana as a sacrament, they were arguing that the law infringes on their freedom of religion rights. Prosecutors, however, argued that allowing the church’s application would effectively legalize marijuana in Canada since anyone facing a drug charge would claim it as a religious right.

The decision released earlier Monday by Justice Thea Herman of Ontario’s Superior court found that the church does deserve protection under the charter as a religious group; however, she ruled that Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms poses a reasonable limit on that religious freedom. She says it does not see trafficking as a religious act that deserves protection. From her ruling she wrote, “I do not accept that providing cannabis to people in the basement … was a religious act,” she wrote. “They may well believe that providing [marijuana] to others is a good thing to do. That does not, however, transform its distribution into a religious belief or practice.”

She also ruled that providing a legal exemption for those who use marijuana for religious purposes is “not feasible” due to “the difficulties in identifying both the religious user and the religious use of cannabis. She said that the proposed institution of a system of state inquiries into poeple’s religious beliefs has the potential to undermine the value Canadians’ place on freedom of rleigion rather than promote it.

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Walter Tucker and Michael Baldasaro, the church’s founders say members are encouraged to surround themselves with the holy Tree of Life, not just by inhaling it, but by wearing it, growing it, and eating it. With their religious defense now thrown out, they are facing charges of marijuana trafficking and their case is due back in court Feb. 21.