The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday affirmed [opinion, PDF] summary judgment issued by a Hawaii federal district court denying an exemption to Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, Inc. [official website] from federal laws prohibiting the possession and distribution of cannabis. The case arose [AP report] from an incident in 2009 involving a member of the church who had his cannabis seized prompting the church to file a complaint under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Controlled Substances Act. The Ninth Circuit stated “even assuming that plaintiffs’ use of cannabis constituted an ‘exercise of religion,’ no rational trier of fact could conclude on the record that a prohibition of cannabis use imposed a ‘substantial burden’ on plaintiffs’ exercise of religion.” Since the church failed to prove the required burden, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s denial from exemption. The founder of the Church, Michael Rex “Raging Bear” Mooney expressed his disappointment over the decision, and Mooney’s attorney, Michael Glenn, stated that the church intends to appeal the ruling.
In recent years there has been a movement to decriminalize marijuana both domestically and abroad which has resulted in at least 20 US states allowing various forms of medical marijuana and four states decriminalizing [CNN report] marijuana altogether. In February the Utah Senate voted to advance a bill [JURIST report] that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in various forms such as vapor or edible form. In December Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree [JURIST report] fully legalizing medical marijuana in the country. Last November New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed two bills [JURIST report] in order to expedite the distribution of medical marijuana to citizens with critical health conditions. Earlier that month New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed [JURIST report] a bill into law that would allow for the administering of edible medical marijuana to sick and disabled children on school grounds without triggering the arrests of parents or educators. In June of last year the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a law restricting the use of medical marijuana was unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In August, JURIST guest columnist, Nancy Marcus, discussed [JURIST Op-ed] religious freedom claims by members of Native American churches seeking drug law exemptions for use of peyote during religious ceremonies.