Thursday, October 22, 2015

Court Rejects Free Exercise Defense In Marijuana Case

MLive reports that Branden James Barnes, who claims to be a medicine man for the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC), pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a Michigan federal district court to charges of manufacturing more than 50 marijuana plants.  The plea came after the court rejected arguments by Barnes' attorney that his marijuana production is protected by the 1st Amendment and RFRA. It was contended that in the ONAC, ritual use of marijuana provides a spiritual experience and healing.  Barnes attorney had argued that the changing attitudes toward marijuana, and its legalization in some states, undercuts prior holdings that the state has a compelling interest in regulating the drug. According to the government, ONAC is a scam-- providing a membership card for $200 which it represents allows the holder to freely possess and use controlled substances. The court also rejected Barnes' attempt to file his own appeal separate from the pleadings filed by his attorney. He argued that his attorney had failed to educate herself about ONAC.