Can Marijuana Be Legal For Religious Purposes?


In the past several years, cannabis has achieved a major victory with many states acknowledging its medicinal benefit and legalizing it to card-carrying patients. But, a 2009 case in Hawaii that has recently been revived looks to answer an age-old question: can (and should) marijuana be legal for religious purposes?

The case in question is spelled out by The Wall Street Journal and begins with law enforcement officers seizing a pound of weed from FedEx that was addressed to a member of the Oklevueha Native American Church. The intended recipient, Michael Rex “Raging Bear” Mooney, promptly sued the heads of the Justice Department and the D.E.A., arguing that his 250-person church should have the right to use marijuana for religious purposes and that this is protected by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law broadly prevents other laws from impeding on someone’s ability to freely practice their religion. More specifically, the law was put in place to help Native Americans and protect their right to transport, posses, and use peyote in sacred religious rites. Logically, Mooney believes that this should extend to cannabis, as it is an inherent part of his church’s religious rituals.

Since neither Mooney nor the church were prosecuted or even charged for the seizure, a lower court originally threw out the lawsuit, but the case has since been reopened by the Ninth Circuit under the decision that prosecution was not a prerequisite for the lawsuit, but, rather, that simply seizing the church’s marijuana was grounds enough for the complaint.

For now, the case sits awaiting a lower court to decide on how to continue this case, but the incident begs the question about whether marijuana for religious use is a next step in the relationship between the government and pot. Besides Native American groups, there are many religious organizations who claim to use cannabis as part of their religious rituals, most notably the Rastafari movement.

So far, groups have found little success in using freedom of religion as a defense in marijuana cases, with a 2010 Denver Post article (link: noting that instances in Hawaii, Alaska, and Arizona have all resulted in convictions for the defendant. But, with the laws being as they are, is it the place of courts to dictate what religions are legitimate enough to seek protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and which are not? After all, if Mooney is successful in his suit against the seizure of his pound of marijuana, what is to keep anyone from claiming ties to religions that use marijuana for religious ceremonies. Perhaps some conditions, such as registering with local law enforcement and maintaining a certain minimum number of church members, should be used to substantiate religious marijuana use claims, resulting in only known congregations receiving the privilege of being able to use, transport, and purchase cannabis for religious purposes.

For now, it seems that decisions like these are left to the local level, with individual law enforcement agencies deciding whether or not to prosecute offenders and no real landmark decision having yet occurred with regards to use of marijuana as a religious freedom. But that could all change with Mooney and Oklevueha Native American Church. Time will tell.

Do you think Mooney should win his lawsuit for the seized marijuana? Do you think pot should be legal for religious purposes? Could the religious benefits of marijuana be just as great as the medicinal ones?

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  1. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
    And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was Good.
    Genesis 1

    Men have become so blindly arrogant in declaring what God says is Good into something evil. They say what God created is illegal but the chemical compounds men create for profit are legal and good. Don’t doubt Big Pharma and the Forrest Industries have a big say with the politicians in keeping hemp and natural cannabis off the legal market. Doing this opens the way and creates the violence over the drug trade, increased taxes to support the Police, Court and Prison costs and their bureaucracies. The Police, Courts and Prison Unions do not want their budgets slashed.

    Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
    Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
    Isaiah 5:21-22

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  4. First off I have always thought that the Native American Lands were actually not part of US government and it was there land here before the USA was even a dream, but now our government feels it has the right to demand the natives to follow US law, why? But I take that US government does what they want and when they want without the permission of the people. Dont you think they have taken enough from the Native Americans and put them down and hold them there. They should but the noses out of tribal laws and let them do as they please, its suppose to be their land not the US!!

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