Rastafarian wins religious defense before Guam Supreme Court

The Guam Supreme Court has dismissed criminal charges against a man who claimed that he is a Rastafarian and was importing the marijuana for religious use. The decision was based on the Guam court’s interpretation of Guam’s Free Exercise clause, rather than the Free Exercise Clause of the federal Constitution.
In reaching its decision, the Guam Supreme Court reasoned that the proper test under Guam’s free exercise protection is the strict scrutiny test that the US Supreme Court used prior to its disastrous 1990 opinion in the Smith peyote case (494 US 872). Under the strict scrutiny test, the Guam court held that the prosecutor had the burden of proving that Guam’s ban on all marijuana importation was justified by a compelling governmental interest, and that the importation ban achieved its objective by the least restrictive means possible.

The prosecutor, in a foolish strategic decision, presented absolutely no evidence to justify Guam’s wholesale ban against importing marijuana. Thus, the Guam Supreme Court wasted no time concluding that because marijuana was a necessary sacrament of the Rastafarian religion, and because the prosecution failed to justify the burden placed on the practice of the Rastafarian religion by the law against importing marijuana, the importation ban violated Guam’s free exercise protection.

This opinion (Guam v. Guerrero, (September 8, 2000) 2000 Guam 26, No. CRA99-025) is a major breakthrough for religious users of controlled substances. The published opinion from Guam’s highest court will be persuasive precedent for defendant’s outside of Guam, who will be able to cite the case for the proposition that strict scrutiny is, indeed, the proper test to apply when a religious defense is raised to criminal drug charges.

The full opinion is on line in the drug law library of our Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics. Direct URL is:

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