The Austin Chronicle

Feds Uphold Holy Weed

By Jordan Smith, June 14, 2002, News

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act precludes the federal government from prosecuting people on federal lands who possess marijuana for religious reasons. A three-member panel of the court ruled that under the 1993 law, the government can create exceptions to the Controlled Substances Act and other laws.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Bennie Tores Guerrero (aka Ras Iyah Ben Makahna), a Rastafarian for nearly 20 years, was arrested at the Guam airport and charged with importing five ounces of marijuana and 10 ounces of marijuana seeds. The court ruled that it was legal for Guerrero to possess the marijuana for use in a Rastafarian religious ceremony, but that it wasn't necessary for him to import the drug. "Rastafarianism does not require importation of a controlled substance, which increases its availability," the justices wrote.

One attorney on the case believes the court used fuzzy logic when determining the importation question. "It's the equivalent to saying wine is a necessary sacrament for some Christians but you have to grow your own grapes," ACLU Drug Litigation Project lawyer Graham Boyd told NORML. Reportedly the ACLU will ask for a review of the decision by the full court. For now, the San Francisco-based court's decision will cover the area within its purview: nine western states, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands. But if eventually adopted nationwide, the law would cover all federally owned lands -- including Washington, D.C., where Congress has continually shot down a long-suffering medical marijuana initiative.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.