Drug Policy

Still No Right to Holy Smoke


Church of Cognizance founders Dan and Mary Quaintance, whose case I discussed in my June 2007 reason story about religious use of drugs, are scheduled to be tried in Albuquerque this month on federal marijuana charges. The Quaintances, who were caught near Lordsburg, New Mexico, in 2006 with 172 pounds of marijuana, tried to get the charges against them dismissed by arguing that prosecuting them for possessing cannabis, their church's sacrament, violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A federal judge rejected that claim, concluding that the Quaintances' belief system—unlike, say, that of the peyote-consuming Native American Church or the ayahuasca-drinking Uniao do Vegetal—does not qualify as a bona fide religion, an outcome that illustrates the peril of inviting the government to assess people's religious convictions. It now seems inevitable that the Quaintances will be convicted, in which case they will each face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

Another member of the church, Daniel Hardesty, also has been unsuccessful in pressing a religious freedom defense. Arrested in 2005, Hardesty challenged his conviction for possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, citing an Arizona law similar to RFRA. On July 31 the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected his argument. Unlike the federal judge who heard the Quaintances' case, who questioned whether they really believed what they claimed to believe, the state court conceded Hardesty's sincerity. But it said he had failed to show that the burden on his religious freedom was not justified by a compelling government interest:

This statute [banning marijuana] does not provide any religious exemptions nor does it contemplate an exemption for the use of marijuana that would be "consistent with public health and safety."…By imposing a total ban, the Legislature has deemed that the use and possession of marijuana always pose a risk to public health and welfare.

The court was troubled that marijuana use by Church of Cognizance members is not restricted to particular times and locations, concluding that "an accommodation of Defendant's unlimited use of marijuana would severely hinder the State's ability to enforce the law." At the same time, the court left the door open to future challenges:

Our holding…does not mean that a defendant can never pursue a religious freedom defense against marijuana-type possession laws. Even in circumstances in which the case law and legislative history demonstrate the existence of a well-established compelling governmental interest and that the government has chosen the least restrictive means to achieve its interest, a defendant may successfully assert a religious freedom defense if he can present independent evidence that negates existing authority. Also, in areas in which case law and legislative history are not so well developed, the State must introduce evidence to support a restriction of a religious practice. Here, however, precedent is overwhelming, and Defendant has failed to proffer any evidence to counter that precedent establishing the dangers of marijuana.

Here is a PDF of the opinion.

 [via the Drug War Chronicle]


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  1. From a purist’s standpoint, why should religions get special rights? It’s bad enough that they get tax breaks.

    From a pragmatist’s standpoint, this blows.

  2. Here, however, precedent is overwhelming, and Defendant has failed to proffer any evidence to counter that precedent establishing the dangers of marijuana.

    Am I just being Pollyannaish, or does that sound a bit like a plea for someone to come in with a similar case, and enter into evidence all those scientific studies showing that marijuana is harmless?

  3. Defendant has failed to proffer any evidence to counter that precedent establishing the dangers of marijuana.

    …so what they’re saying is that if the defendant had just shown them a couple of easily-accessible articles (MSM, academic journals, government studies, etc.) that show that marijuana doesn’t cause cancer, doesn’t harm driving ability, etc., they would have let them smoke pot? Sounds like either a) someone had a terrible lawyer, or b) the courts are just makin’ shit up, and had they presented evidence showing pot ain’t too bad, they would have just found some other reason to deny the defendants their right to get high. I’d guess a little from column A, a lot from column B.

  4. Typically Drug Warriors work like this; I rule your evidence inadvisable. There is no evidence to support your claim. Therefore, I order all your assets seized and sentence you to the maximum.

  5. time for a rasta lawsuit, i think.

  6. Here, however, precedent is overwhelming, and Defendant has failed to proffer any evidence to counter that precedent establishing the dangers of marijuana.

    “Establishing the dangers”?

    How about defendant producing a chart labeled “Total Annual Deaths From Marijuana Overdoses in the U.S.” showing a line starting at zero and ending at zero, with a straight line between these two points?

    You’d think this would be slamdunk reversal on appeal — if we had judges who ruled on evidence.

  7. Seriously, how does the Catholic Church get by with serving communion wine to minors? (Or doesn’t it?)

  8. Because it’s not wine, it’s the Blood of Jesus Christ.

    Doesn’t work for you??

  9. Catholics are vampires!!


  10. Marijuana doesn’t cause cancer only because potheads don’t smoke two packs a day every day for twenty years. If people smoked pot like they smoke tobacco, I would expect to see emphysema, bronchitus and lung cancer. Not as much as with tobacco, but enough to demonstrate that inhaling smoke from burning vegetable matter is not good for you.

    p.s. I speak as an ex-smoker who used to have stoned stinking hippies tell me I was going to die from the cigarettes.

  11. time for a rasta lawsuit, i think.

    Yeah, it seems like the key to having your religion recognized as legit is to make sure your defendants aren’t anglos.

    Native Americans taking peyote? Check.

    Rain forest indigenes taking alkaloids? Check.

    White people smoking pot? C’mon, who are you trying to kid?

  12. Ah, the asinine idiocy of the drug warriors and their illogical reasons for maintaining this fool’s errand.

    They should have just said we hate pot based purely on irrational fears of drugs and not on any reasonable facts of any kind, therefore we don’t want you doing ti period. And we don’t care what reasons you have for doing it.

    At least then they would be intellectually honest.

  13. I do not see the point in trying to save others from themselves, whether it’s pot or meth. Let natural selection take its course. Free crack and meth to reduce the low-IQ population.

  14. an accommodation of Defendant’s unlimited use of marijuana would severely hinder the State’s ability to enforce the law.

    What, like that’s a bad thing?


  15. it’s not wine, it’s the Blood of Jesus Christ.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I could see far stronger reasons for banning the drinking of blood than alcohol.

    Just sayin’…


  16. John C. Randolph-

    IMHO, the constitution does not give the judicial branch the authority to make such proclamations thereby giving them the force of law. This is the type of judicial activism that should be criticized. The judge’s job, as I see it, is to do evertything in his power to frustrate the enforcement of scoialist clap trap.

  17. Marijuana doesn’t cause cancer only because potheads don’t smoke two packs a day every day for twenty years.

    Maybe you could create a tobacco that packs a day’s worth of nicotine in one cigarette–and see how far the government/Philip Morris let you get with that.

  18. Awhile back, we had the high court writing in Lawrence vs. Texas about a “presumption of liberty” that provided part of the meaning of and impetus for Amendments IX and X.

    I had some high hopes that this line of thought, as developed in an ever widening ripple of cases, might someday shake the Drug War house of cards just enough to send it tumbling down. But several years later, this appears to have been a pipe dream.

    Whatever happened to that presumption of liberty?

  19. govt reasoning: real religion can’t be fun! they just want to smoke dope, and there can never be a ‘legitimate’ reason to do so. (might be half true, but who cares?)

  20. No, the real thinking appears to be, it must be dangerous because there are so many laws against it, so because it apears to be dangerous on that account the laws against it are justifiable.

  21. Ah, the old “Church vs State” Mind vs Body debate! Aint goin nowhere. As an original Reefer Raider who helped to start the whole initiative thing, it has been a long, long haul. There IS no other reason besides the fear of accountability when marijuana tax revenues start piling up. How to skim? How to extort? How to get my grubby hands on some of that money! {Gov’t agents speaking}
    Hey, Government of, the people, for, the people, by, the people, WE say yes to Hemp!
    YOU DO IT! Or else!

  22. Legalize cannabis please. Alcohol is legal and its much more dangerous and addictive.

    It is crazy to me cannabis is not yet legal in the states.

  23. Give me a fucking break. Are you actually trying to convince us this is a real church instead of a pot smoking club? I believe marijuana should be legal, but it isn’t, and the fact you buy the bullshit these people are peddling proves one thing: you are one gullible fucker.

  24. With the release of the “Pharmacratic Inquisition”, expect to see our courts clogged with lawsuits against the US government for its religious suppression of our basic rights to self-expression and religious liberty. The law is the law and even the fascist theocrats running our government will have to face the truth about religious diversity in this country. Long Live the Curanderos!

  25. It’s an amazing feeling to realize how one person who was once just a stranger suddenly meant the world to you.

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