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AZ: Court overrules use of pot as sacrament

federal judge has ruled against the founders of a Southeastern Arizona church that deifies marijuana and uses it as a sacrament, saying they don't have a "sincere" religious belief.

In her refusal to dismiss charges against Dan and Mary Quaintance, U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera in Albuquerque wrote that evidence indicates the pair "adopted their 'religious' belief in cannabis as a sacrament and deity in order to justify their lifestyle choice to use marijuana."

Herrera's Dec. 22 order means the government's criminal case against the Quaintances will proceed in the new year. The couple is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 16 on criminal charges of possessing more than 100 pounds of marijuana, as well as conspiracy charges. "She doesn't fully understand our doctrine," Dan Quaintance said Tuesday of Herrera's decision. "This is very upsetting to the members of our church. It was quite a holiday present." The Quaintances face up to 40 years each in prison if they are convicted as charged. They expect to appeal the decision.

The couple was arrested with 172 pounds of marijuana on Feb. 22 in Lordsburg, N.M., just seven days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a small religious group based in Santa Fe that combines Christianity and American Indian practices could use hallucinogenic tea in its ceremonies. The tea, called hoasca, contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, known for its hallucinogenic properties.

Members of the O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, or UDV, said using the hallucinogenic tea during worship helped them gain union with God. The Supreme Court based its decision on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the government needs to justify any action that would substantially burden people from practicing their faith. Citing the UDV case, the Quaintances asked that their charges be dismissed. A three-day hearing on their request was held in Albuquerque in August, and the Quaintances had been awaiting a decision from Herrera since then.

The U.S. Constitution contains no legally recognizable definition of religion, but courts still can apply a test of sincerity.

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Tags : marijuana sacrament
Posted on: 2006-12-27 12:46:54