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In Cannabis We Trust

Herb Fellow

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EDINBURG – He calls himself the Rev. Adam E. Zuniga. His religion is illegal.
According to his business card, he is ordained by the Shemshemet Ministry, which teaches the Cannabis Sacrament. "It's a means to my survival, spiritually," he says.

For Zuniga, his Eucharist is pot. But he doesn't call it that. "Please refer to it as cannabis. I don't refer to propaganda names. It's sacrament. It's herb. It is a plant."

In July 2003, the 27-year-old had just wrapped up working security in the U.S. Air Force, and was awaiting an instructor position at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

That's when a car accident changed his life. He hydroplaned while driving in the rain and collided with several trees. Prior to the accident, Zuniga says he dabbled in marijuana use in high school, but switched to cigarettes when he joined the Air Force.

After shattering several bones in his left arm and tearing ligaments in his right leg during the car accident, he found himself chasing the strong pain medicine he was prescribed with beer, and still feeling the pain.

It took one year before a friend finally convinced him that he had become addicted to prescription medicine. Right about that time, his girlfriend, a nursing major, turned in a research paper at the University of Texas-Pan American on cannabis and its medical affects.

Through his own research, Zuniga discovered the drug could help him. What he didn't expect was that it would also help him spiritually, too. "I don't just want to smoke cannabis. I want to live my life comfortably," he said. "It's not just 'quote unquote' pot."

Shemshemet Ministry

Today, Zuniga uses a cane. Doctors tell him it's just a matter of time before he'll need a full knee replacement.

An anthropology student at UTPA, he lists "The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato and "Constantine's Sword: the Church and the Jews" by James Carroll – a controversial book that argues the historical fight of the church's battle against Jews – as some of his favorite reads on his Facebook page.

It doesn't take long to tell Zuniga has emphatically researched the history of all religions and the role that natural, now-prohibited drugs have played in them. He knows his stuff.

Though his studies, he stumbled upon the Shemshemet Ministry.

The organization's Web site states: "Celebrating our constitutional right to practice religion in the USA."

It further states that the ministry provides education in spirituality that will "help to protect you from arrest, prosecution and/or conviction of 'marijuana' charges – wherever you live – starting as soon as you sign-up, become ordained and receive your ministry documents."

Zuniga says God made the marijuana plant and his body, which allows for the two to combine. He advocates that natural drugs currently prohibited by law – including hallucinogenic mushrooms – should be legalized. He says his practice is a basic human rights issue. What he does with his own body, and in his own home, is his business, he says; he isn't hurting anyone else.

"It is about the greater whole," he said. "I'm fighting for everyone, just like the military. I want people to realize that they have a right to question."

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who's taught criminal justice courses at UTPA, says Zuniga's assertions aren't based on any legal fact or right. It is illegal to possess marijuana in Texas, and like in every other state but 10, its use for medicinal purposes is prohibited. The severity of the charges someone like Zuniga could face depends on the amount in possession, Treviño said.

"Obviously, he is very well misinformed," the sheriff said. "He is putting himself in peril of being arrested for possession of marijuana."


In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declared medical marijuana patients are subject to federal prosecution even if they live in a state that allows medicinal use of marijuana. There are several grassroots groups like the Shemshemet Ministry that uphold the use of medicinal marijuana, including the credible national organization Americans for Safe Access, but their cause has struggled.

Douglas Laycock, a professor emeritus at the The University of Texas at Austin, said there is no definition of when a religion becomes a religion: "it is a question of sincerity."

"There is a very long history of religious use of hallucinogens," he said.

But Laycock seem skeptical that the government would ever recognize marijuana use as a religious practice.

He said in the late 1960s Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, which allowed Native Americans to use peyote – a small cactus that when eaten has powerful hallucinogenic affects.

And Ras Tafarians, a black Zionist movement that emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s, is known for using marijuana for spiritual purposes, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

They have been on court for years advocating their rights to use pot to practice their religion and have lost, Laycock said.

"If (marijuana) were exempt (from law for religious practice), how would the government ever enforce the marijuana laws?" Laycock said. "Every one would say they are a Ras Tafarian."

Zuniga said when he "practices," he uses the time for meditation and insight on historical and current global issues, as well as his own life. It allows him to reach deeper questioning, he said.

He said his first religious experience with cannabis came to him in winter 2005. He realized "the creation" says humans came from dirt, which is from where cannabis comes. So, when he puts the herb into his body and exhales the smoke, he is merely furthering the circle of life and releasing the organism back into Earth, a part of which he will be again when he is dead and buried.

"For me, it is a living organism that has the ability to show me that there is something that transcends me," he said.

"It helps me to become a better human being. ... I am reaching what Buddha called Nirvana."

Source: The Brownsville Herald
Copyright: 2008, The Brownsville Herald
Contact: Jackie Leatherman/The Monitor
Website: Local: In Cannabis we trust | marijuana, zuniga, use : Brownsville Herald
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