The Multi-Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari has already lost more than 40,000 marijuana plants and will continue to see plants confiscated, the 9th Circuit ruled, rejecting the group's claim that the seizures are a constitutional violation.
Members of the Ministry filed suit against federal and state agents claiming the government was violating the members' First Amendment right to exercise religious freedom by confiscating their pot plants.
The district court dismissed the members' claim, and the 9th Circuit agreed that the "right to freely exercise one's religion ... does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes conduct that his religion prescribes."
The three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled that drug laws are both "neutral and generally applicable," so they may be enforced even if doing so burdens religious practices.
The panel further ruled that even if the members had succeeded in making their case for a First Amendment violation, the government's obligation to prevent the distribution of thousands of pot plants to non-members outweighs any such violation.
By ELIZABETH BANICKI
February 17, 2010
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