Court nixes religious marijuana exemption

By chillinwill · Sep 9, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    The state's interest in banning marijuana outweighs the religious beliefs of an individual that he is entitled to use the drug anywhere, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

    In the first ruling of its kind in Arizona, the justices said state law permits the government to "burden the exercise of religion'' only if it shows a compelling interest and that the restrictions are the "least restrictive means of furthering that interest.'' And Daniel Hardesty conceded to the court that there is some governmental interest in the regulation of marijuana.

    But Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch said Hardesty argues that his membership in the Church of Cognizance allows him to use marijuana in any amounts they want, anywhere and at any time, including while driving. She said that makes it clear that an outright ban is the "least restrictive means'' of the government to further its interests in protecting the public.

    Tuesday's ruling does not foreclose the possibility that the state's high court might not conclude in another case - one with different facts and religious claims - that some form of religious use of marijuana is protected by Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act. Berch, writing for the unanimous court, pointed out that courts have allowed users of peyote to use federal laws to shield them from prosecution against state drug laws.

    She said, though, there is "an obvious difference'' between that situations and what is occurring here.

    "Members of the Native American Church assert only the religious right to use peyote in limited sacramental rights,'' the chief justice wrote. "Hardesty asserts the right to use marijuana whenever he pleases, including while driving.''

    Hardesty was arrested in 2005 after being stopped by police while driving in Yavapai County.

    At trial, Hardesty testified that he had been a practicing member of the Church of Cognizance since 1993.

    A church official testified that the religion, founded in 1991, is based on "neo-Zoroastrian tenets" and that marijuana provides a connection to the divine mind and spiritual enlightenment. The judge also was told that the church is made up of "individual orthodox member monasteries,'' each consisting of a family unit that establishes its own mode of worship.

    Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Thomas Lindberg said at the time that Hardesty's claim of religious use of marijuana was not made "in bad faith," and that it was something Hardesty was "sincerely professing at the time."

    Prosecutors never challenged the status of the church. But they persuaded the judge to exclude the religious-freedom claim. Hardesty was convicted and placed on probation for 18 months.

    In arguments to the Supreme Court, Hardesty argued that he was entitled to a separate hearing to determine if the state had a compelling interest in regulation marijuana, and whether the outright ban was the least restrictive means of infringing on his religious rights.

    Berch, however, said there is a long line of case law showing that marijuana poses a threat to individual health and social welfare. She specifically cited the state's interests in regulating criminal drug trafficking and associated crimes.

    As to the issue of the level of restriction, Berch said the government must show only that other means are impractical or ineffective. Given Hardesty's claim that he should be allowed in the name of his religion to use marijuana when and where he wants, the justice said nothing short of an outright ban will protect the public interest.

    Daniel DeRienzo, one of Hardesty's attorneys, has criticized the position of prosecutors that allowing church members to use marijuana would result in serious harm. He called that "the Reefer Madness argument," referring to a 1936 propaganda film that claimed high schoolers lured into marijuana use engaged in manslaughter, suicide and rape, and descended into madness.

    Tuesday's ruling is the second defeat in two years for members of the Church of Cognizance.

    Last year a Graham County couple that claims to have founded the religion in the early 1990s were found guilty of possession and conspiracy with intent to distribute marijuana after being stopped with 172 pounds of marijuana in their vehicle near Las Cruces, N.M. A federal judge in New Mexico rejected their religious freedom arguments.

    Danuel Quaintance was sentenced to five years in prison; his wife, Mary, was sentenced to two to three years.

    September 8, 2009
    Yuma Sun

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  1. Expat98
    Jeeze, it is unfortunate that this case even went to the AZ Supreme Court. This was a completely unwinnable case.
  2. Nature Boy
    Moral of the story: Don't rely on shitty religious laws to win freedom of drug use. It's only set up to reward paedophile Catholic priests, deranged pastors and L. Ron Hubbard. If you ask me, the con artists should be taxed into oblivion. Drug policy should be about controlling currently uncontrolled revenue streams and ensuring product quality and education.
  3. Expat98
    ^^I disagree and would actually like to see the war against drugs challenged on constitutional grounds. But it needs to be a well-presented case. Claiming that you have the right to use marijuana anytime, anywhere you want (including while driving) is obviously not going to cut it.
  4. Nature Boy
    The problem with challenging drug laws on constitutional grounds is that the constitution was never written in anticipation of this stupid drug war in the first place. At the start of the 20th century people could buy various forms of marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine and opiates in their local drug store without any persecution. If anything, religious freedom is an outdated idea concerned with preventing fundamentalists from hacking each others' heads off. We should have moved past that long ago. True capitalism is the proverbial flogged dead horse. People have tiptoed around it using religion to avoid tax and everything else to enforce tax. If they decide to continue with this system, make it all or nothing. Tax anything that involves the mass manipulation of revenue streams or don't tax anything at all.
  5. EscapeDummy
    Yup. Here in the bay area, in the 80s Hindus had to set up their temples in fucking warehouses and industrial buildings. There are 3 temples literally which used to be warehouses, in a shitty area. There's a HUGE, legitimate Hindu temple in Livermore, CA, and it was made in the early 80s, its in some screwed up place because the city would not allow them to build in any sort of reasonable area. I kid you not.
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