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Church Argues Marijuana A Sacrament

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
If some religions sip wine at the altar, others should be allowed to smoke pot. At least according to Rev. Edwin Pearson and Rev. Michel Ethier, two ordained ministers behind a proposed $25 million class action lawsuit challenging Canada's marijuana laws.

The ministers, along with lay preacher James Hoad, allege the federal government is violating the religious freedom of members of the Church of the Universe, which claims marijuana as a "sacrament."

In a statement of claim filed with the Federal Court of Canada, the trio accuses the government of harassing church members and "denuding" them of their dignity, often stopping them as they leave services seizing "sacramental cannabis" and rifling through parish records.

"The Church Abbott and all reverends of the Church are obliged to use cannabis for sacramental purposes in all its forms," said Ethier, who has been convicted six times of marijuana possession since 1998, in an affidavit filed with the court.

"I have been unable to peaceably meet with parishioners without fear of losing my freedom."

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of as many as 4,000 church members, claims $9,000 in damages for each member for various breaches of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the alleged abuse of public office by unnamed government officials. The plaintiffs are also seeking $25 million in punitive damages.

The case is the latest gambit in the church's long-running battle against pot prohibitions. The basis of this latest challenge appears to be the plaintiffs' claim that since 2003, Canada has had no valid criminal law banning marijuana possession.

That allegation might just "have some foundation in reality," says Toronto criminal lawyer Paul Burstein, who has no involvement in the case but extensive litigation experience in the area.

Earlier this month, an Ontario Court judge in Toronto acquitted a man named Clifford Long, holding that Canada's marijuana possession laws are unconstitutional. Justice Howard Borenstein's verdict had its roots in a case decided by the Ontario Court of Appeal seven years ago. In that case, the court said the criminal prohibition on marijuana possession was unconstitutional because the law did not include provisions to allow medical users to obtain the drug legally.

Eventually, the government adopted a policy of supplying marijuana to people who were too sick to grow their own and allowing co-operative growing operations.

But Borenstein concluded a policy of merely allowing access to the drug was hardly an adequate response to previous court findings that the law was unconstitutional, since government policies can be changed easily and lack the strength of legislation or even a regulation.

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Source: TheStar.com
Author: Tracey Tyler
Contact: TheStar.com - Static - Contact Us
Copyright: Toronto Star 1996-2007
Website: TheStar.com - Canada - Church argues marijuana a sacrament
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