TORONTO -- It's judgment day Monday for a Toronto church -- the "Church of the Universe" -- that has asked a Superior Court judge for an exemption to the country's marijuana laws for religious reasons.
If Madam Justice Thea Herman grants the exemption, it would strike down the laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
"It would effectively legalize marijuana because every pot smoker would find a new religion," argued Nick Devlin and Donna Polgar, of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which opposes the bid.
They urged the court to weed out frivolous claims.
"The Church of the Universe ... offers marijuana -- however and whenever individuals want it," the lawyers stated in their factums filed in court.
"Simply put, the mere fact that one profoundly enjoys using marijuana does not beget a constitutional right to traffic it commercially."
It is expected that if the church wins the exemption, the federal government will appeal the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
It's believed to be the first time a Canadian court has been asked to define whether a religion's illegal practices are protected by the Charter of Rights.
Lawyers Paul Lewin and George Filipovic, who represent two minister members of the church, argued the Church of the Universe views cannabis as sacred substance which brings them closer to God.
The religion also teaches that Jesus Christ was anointed with a holy oil, containing a key ingredient which translates as cannabis, court heard.
The two lawyers represent Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani, both minister-members of the Beaches Mission of God -- Assembly of The Church of the Universe (COU) location in east Toronto.
By outlawing marijuana, the state is infringing on the Universe church-goers' Charter right of Freedom of Religion, their lawyers argue. Styrsky, 53, and Kharaghani, 31, were charged with trafficking marijuana after they allegedly sold pot to two undercover cops who infiltrated their church as members in 2006.
By SAM PAZZANO, QMI Agency
Last Updated: February 6, 2011
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Judge to rule on pot laws vs. religion