Wednesday, June 15, 2016

9th Circuit Rejects RFRA Defense Raised By Hawaii Cannabis Ministers

In United States v. Christie, (9th Cir., June 14, 2016), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of the founder of the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry and his wife on charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.  The court rejected defendants' claim that their convictions violate their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The court held that the government had a compelling interest in mitigating the risk that cannabis from the Ministry would be diverted to recreational users, and that the government achieved that compelling interest in the least restrictive manner. The court said in part:
there is specific evidence that the Ministry’s distribution methods created a realistic possibility that cannabis intended for members of the Ministry would be distributed instead to outsiders who were merely feigning membership in the Ministry and adherence to its religious tenets. Additionally, the government’s interest in this case is all the more compelling given the Ministry’s well-publicized willingness to extend membership in the Ministry (with all that that entails) to minors.
Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.