The cannabis war

Co-director of the Alchemind Society ( and legal counsel for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (

In an opinion issued recently by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, some marijuana-using Rastafarians may be protected under a religious-freedom law passed by Congress in 1993.

The case began in 1991 when Benny Guerrero, returning from a trip to Hawaii, was stopped by officials at Guam’s international airport and was found to be carrying five ounces of marijuana and some cannabis seeds. In his defense, Guerrero argued that he was a practicing Rastafarian and that his use of marijuana was religious. His importation of the herb was, he argued, protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that blocks the federal government from unjustifiably infringing on a person’s practice of religion.

After litigating the case for more than 10 years, the Ninth Circuit ruled that while the Religious Freedom Restoration Act might protect some of those who possess or smoke marijuana as part of a religious practice, it does not protect the importation of marijuana. According to the Ninth Circuit, while the practice of Rastafarianism sanctions the smoking of marijuana, nowhere does the religion sanction the importation of marijuana.

The ruling also has much in common with the current situation facing some AIDS and Crohn’s disease patients, who find that marijuana alleviates some of their pain and increases their appetites. Although eight states now permit citizens to use marijuana for medicinal purposes with the approval of their doctor, the federal government has loudly stated its intention to criminally prosecute anyone who dares to supply a sick person with medical marijuana.

According to the latest Household Survey on Drug Abuse, over 16 million Americans used an illegal drug in the last 30 days. To the extent that the vast majority of these 16 million Americans used an illegal drug without causing harm to others, our criminal justice system ought to leave them alone and instead focus on protecting us from dangerous criminals.

Instead, the government has just requested over $19 billion of taxpayer money to fight yet another year of the “war on drugs” and it’s not about to let religion, medicine or basic human rights, for that matter, stand in its way.

Lost in the haze of its zero-tolerance prohibition policy, and drunk on its hyperbolic rhetoric about how marijuana leads you through the Devil’s Gateway, the government continues to flex its weary muscles in an antiquated effort to save souls.