Thursday, April 07, 2016

9th Circuit: Denial of Exemption For Use of Cannabis Does Not Impose Substantial Burden On Religious Exercise

In Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii v. Lynch, (9th Cir., April 6, 2016), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a church and its founder were properly denied an exemption from federal laws that prohibit the possession and distribution of cannabis. Under RLUIPA, denial of an exemption does not impose a "substantial burden" on plaintiffs' exercise of religion because the primary sacrament of the church is peyote.  Plaintiffs consume cannabis only as a substitute. They do not claim that peyote is unavailable or that cannabis serves a unique religious function.