Newsbrief: US 9th Circuit Rules Religious Marijuana Use on Federal Lands Okay
31 May 2002
In a case involving a Hispanic Rastaman bringing marijuana to Guam, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act precluded the US government from prosecuting people who possess marijuana on federal lands for religious reasons. The court reasoned that under the RFRA, Congress had the power to create religious exemptions to laws it had originally passed, in this case the Controlled Substances Act.
Unfortunately for defendant Bennie Toves Guerrero, also known as Ras Iyah Ben Makahna, who had been arrested at the Guam airport and charged with importing five ounces of marijuana and 10 ounces of seeds, the court ruled that he could be prosecuted for importing marijuana. Rastafarianism does not require importation of a controlled substance, which increases (its) availability, the court said.
But the rulings ramifications could be wide. The courts reference to the federal realm, specifically the territory of Guam in this case, could apply to federal prosecutions on other federal property, such as national parks, San Francisco federal public defender Barry Portman told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The ruling, which is in line with rulings by two other appeals court, applies to the entire purview of the 9th Circuit, including Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, California, and eight other Western states. If extended nationwide, the ruling could apply to federal territories across the country, including Washington, DC.
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