This holiday season, some folks are celebrating a green Christmas Rastafarian style. Marijuana churches are popping up in states that have legalized marijuana, and in states that have not, like Indiana.
Attempting to take advantage of constitutional rights to observe their faith as they see fit, marijuana churches might be based on Rastafarian or Native American traditions. However, many state authorities feel that the churches are abusing their rights and in truth turning the churches into dispensaries in disguise.
In California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and is preparing for sales of recreational marijuana to begin Jan. 1, churches tied to marijuana use have recently popped up in Oakland, Roseville, Modesto and San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. A few have been shut down by law enforcement.
“I’m not going to say they’re not churches, but to the extent that they’re distributing marijuana, they’re an illegal dispensary, in my view,” said San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle.
Doyle has requested a permanent legal injunction to stop the Coachella Valley Church from providing marijuana, and a court hearing is set for Jan. 22. He recently got a court order to shut down operations of a similar church, the Oklevueha Native American Church of South Bay, he said.
Nationally, such churches have opened in Indiana, where marijuana remains illegal, and Michigan, where medical marijuana is allowed. Even in Colorado, which legalized pot in 2012, the “International Church of Cannabis” is testing the limits of state and city rules on consuming marijuana in public.
The churches rely on court rulings that made it possible for some groups, including Native Americans, to use federally banned drugs like peyote in religious ceremonies. Despite these rulings, courts have thus far rejected religious groups’ right to use marijuana, still illegal at the federal level, said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor specializing in religious liberty issues. Yet, he said, as more states legalize marijuana, courts may regard marijuana churches’ rights more favorably.
It seems as though religion intertwining itself with marijuana legalization will continue and even adds another angle of pressure on federal and state governments to understand that cannabis legalization is a also a civil rights issue. Shouldn’t people be able to observe their faith on Christmas with marijuana if they choose to?
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