Sunday, January 29, 2017

6th Circuit Rejects Free Exercise Defense To Marijuana Charges

In United States v. Barnes, (6th Cir., Jan. 26, 2017), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss an indictment of a member of the Oklevueha Native American Church who was charged with growing large quantities of marijuana.  Defendant claimed that the 1st Amendment and RFRA allowed him to grow the plants to donate to the church. The court disagreed saying in part:
Barnes did not make an adequate showing that the CSA substantially burdened his practice of religion. Barnes admitted that growing marijuana and donating it to the church is not required by his religion.... [W]hile marijuana is considered a medicine of the church, it is not an essential sacrament of the faith.... Peyote, by contrast, is the only “sacrament” of the church. Barnes did not provide any historical evidence that the manufacturing of marijuana is central to the ONAC religion specifically, or to Native American religion in general.
... [M]anufacturing marijuana and intending to donate it to the Toledo church was a "personal belief" and a choice that he made, not one that was critical to practicing the ONAC faith. While Barnes is correct that it is not the place of the court to decide the "centrality of . . . beliefs to canonical texts," that does not prevent this court from determining whether a particular practice is required by a religion as a part of the substantial-burden analysis....