A Vancouver man will appear in Federal Court on Tuesday arguing for an exemption to the drug laws because they infringe on his constitutional freedom of religion to smoke his sacred weed – marijuana.
Find out more about the case (including when and where to attend the proceedings).
With Insite attendees allowed to inject illicit drugs, medical pot permitted, peyote and mescaline approved as sacraments, and the Brazilian syncretic religious group Santo Daime consuming the Amazonian hallucinogen ayahuasca, Chris Bennett says he is being discriminated against.
In a carefully argued brief submitted to the court, his lawyer Kirk Tousaw says that the middle-aged Bennett smokes seven grams of pot a day in the belief cannabis is the Biblical “tree of life.”
While reading about the first Gulf War in 1990 high on pot, Bennett says he had an epiphany: “Divine information-filled light entered my being leaving me with the strong intuitive knowledge and belief that cannabis was the Tree of Life described at the end of the Book of Revelation.”
Since then, he has dedicated his life to researching, writing, advocating and living out his religious and spiritual beliefs centered on pot.
In Feb. 2009, like medical users, Bennett sought a Health Canada exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act because he faced arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for possessing or buying pot on the black market.
That was denied by Ottawa on May 29, 2009, after what Bennett says was a cursory review.
The author of three books documenting the role of marijuana and its use in the ancient world, Bennett is a reverend with the Church of the Universe.
He was not contacted by Health Canada or asked to provide additional information about his religious beliefs or practices.
No significant research into the history of cannabis use in the context of religion appears to have been conducted: certainly, no one at Health Canada read his books.
No reason for the rejection was provided except the bald statement that it was not in the public interest.
Bennett finally is getting his day in court.
Tousaw said documents obtained via freedom-of-information requests indicated the government had treated the Santo Daime’s use of ayahuasca, which contains the banned substance DMT, much differently even though marijuana was far less potent a psychotropic.
He added that his client meets all the Supreme Court of Canada tests to establish his relationship with pot is religious and spiritual.
“In order to invoke the protections guaranteed by Section 2 of the charter, a religious claimant like Mr. Bennett need only demonstrate that he sincerely believes that a particular practice, such as the consumption of cannabis, fosters his ability to connect to the divine and/or is undertaken as part of his spiritual practice,” Tousaw explained.
“He need not demonstrate that his practice conforms to any dogma.”
In a key 1997 Supreme Court of Canada case called Syndicat Northcrest vs. Amselem, about five Orthodox Jews who wanted to celebrate Succot according to Moses by building booths on their balconies to sleep in during the seven-day holiday commemorating the Exodus, the Supreme Court supported them saying:
“In essence, religion is about freely and deeply held personal convictions or beliefs connected to an individual’s spiritual faith and integrally linked to one’s self-definition and spiritual fulfilment, the practices of which allow individuals to foster a connection with the divine or with the subject or object of that spiritual faith.”
The problem is the Amselem case involved Judaism and a recognized practice – the court was not faced with a religion-of-one or a non-traditional claim, such as the use of consciousness-altering drugs.
For its part, Ottawa insists there’s no merit to Bennett’s case.
In its submission, Department of Justice lawyer Robert Danay said Bennett’s beliefs were “secular in nature … lifestyle choices” not protected under the charter.
While there had been some “back-and-forth” between Health Canada and the ayahuasca applicants, he said, no decision had been made about an exemption.
“Whether the cannabisrelated practices of, for example, Rastafarians or Ethiopian Coptic Christians have any nexus with religion is irrelevant,” Danay said.
“What matters here is whether the applicant has demonstrated that his practice of smoking marijuana has the requisite nexus with religion … he has not.”
Bennett doesn’t have any rites or sacraments involving pot, the federal lawyer emphasized – he simply smokes it constantly!
– Article from The Vancouver Sun.