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Registered: 07/06/10
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Canada: No religious right to smoke marijuana, judge rules
    #524402 - 02/07/11 05:37 PM (7 years, 2 months ago)

Peter Small

Toronto Star

Monday 07 Feb 2011
Canada’s laws against smoking marijuana don’t violate the country's constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, a judge ruled Monday.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman delivered her judgment Monday after hearing weeks of evidence called by two pot-smoking clergymen and opposing federal prosecutors.

Rev. Brother Peter Styrsky, 53, and Rev. Brother Shahrooz Kharaghani, 32, were charged with trafficking in marijuana and hashish after police raided their church — Beaches Mission of God — on Queen St. E. on Oct. 25, 2006.

In a constitutional challenge to Canada's drug laws, however, the two men argued that the cannabis plant is sacred to their religion, the Assembly of the Church of the Universe (COU), which claims about 35 active ministers and 4,000 members across Canada.

Styrsky testified that smoking pot was the most spiritual thing that has ever happened him.

The defendants had asked Herman to rule that Canada;s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act has no force or effect with regards to cannabis because it infringes on their freedom of religion.

"The applicants have established that their use of cannabis was, at least, in part related to a sincerely held religious belief," Herman wrote in her judgment.

However, while she found that the prohibition against pot possession limited their freedom of religion, she also found that the laws controlling its use meet a "pressing and substantive" goal: "the avoidance of harm to Canadians, in particular, the avoidance of harm to vulnerable individuals."

The limits are justified because there is no reasonable way to allow for the use if cannabis for religious use, Herman wrote. "It is difficult, if not impossible for an outsider to identify the religious user and religious use because religious use is barely distinguishable from recreational use."

Styrsky, who got 945 votes in Toronto's 2006 mayoral race, testified that cannabis is a sacred substance whose consumption brings adherents closer to God.

The Crown argued that the men's sale of marijuana and the beliefs underlying it lack the essential characteristics of a religion.

Crown prosecutors Nicholas Devlin and Donna Polgar argued that the church offers no insight or answers into the existential questions of "ultimate concern," offers no comprehensive system of belief by which to live and offers no moral or ethical code.

It is the third time church members have raised religious Charter of Rights issues in defence of their cannabis use, but this is the fullest airing yet of the question.

Defence lawyers Paul Lewin and George Filipovic are also challenging the law on a broader basis: that it violates all religions that are based on beliefs in the inherent goodness of the marijuana plant, such as the Rastafarians.

But the Crown argued that even if the court were to find that the church's activities are protected as religious practices, the law's prohibitions on trafficking are "reasonable and demonstrably justifiable limits" to the freedom of religion.

"Peace and love," Styrsky said after hearing Monday’s decision. "We'll move on."

He added that church members still planned to hold their religious services, and said he and his co-accused are considering an appeal.





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