Religion could save Emery
BC Marijuana party officials are planning a constitutional challenge on the grounds that Canada's prohibition on pot violates people's freedom of religion. Kirk Tousaw, campaign manager for the party, told the Georgia Straight that he and others were researching this issue before the July 29 raid on BCMP headquarters and the arrests of president Marc Emery and two associates. "We had in fact planned to bring the challenge, and still do plan to bring the challenge within the next couple of months," he said.
Tousaw said that Rastafarians, Gnostics, and certain sects from India use marijuana as a sacrament. He added that a Pot-TV employee, Chris Bennett, has written on the subject of cannabis in the Bible, and also uses the drug as a sacrament. "So we have thought about bringing that kind of challenge because there is no exemption currently for sacramental use of cannabis," Tousaw said. Bennett told the Straight that he first made the links between marijuana and spirituality while reading the Book of Revelations about 15 years ago. He cited a passage that mentions a "Tree of Life" that bears 12 different "manners" of fruit and produces leaves that are for the healing of the nations.
"I was overcome with this feeling that light was pouring into my body, and I started thinking that all these fruits are like the paper, the fuel, the hemp, seed, food, and the healing leaves was medicine," Bennett said.
Bennett said he then began collecting references to religion and marijuana, which led him to write two books. He has since concluded that the Bush administration is conducting a "religious war" against marijuana because Bush's religious mentors, including preachers Billy Graham and Pat Robertson, have linked modern drug use to sorcery in the Book of Revelations. Bennett claimed that's why John Walters, U.S. director of national drug control policy, is promoting faith-based treatment as an alternative for young drug users going to jail.
"It's like Christians converting the pagans," Bennett said. "This is why they have such a fear of this thing: they see it as the pagans burning their sacrament." Tousaw said that any constitutional challenge based on religious freedom would be separate from Emery's extra-dition hearing. However, Tousaw claimed that if the court struck down Canada's marijuana prohibition because there is no exemption for sacramental and religious use, it could have an effect on anyone facing extradition on marijuana-related charges. A prerequisite for extradition is that the person must be charged with something that is also a crime in his or her home country.
"It's quite complicated, because when a court deems a statute to be unconstitutional because it violates the Charter, technically that statute was unconstitutional from the very day it was enacted," Tousaw said. "Certainly we would think very carefully about saying in Marc's case: if marijuana prohibition was invalid during the time for which Marc Emery is charged with marijuana-related offences, those offences did not exist in Canadian law. Therefore, he could not be extradited for those offences." The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of religion. Section 1 states that these rights and freedoms are only subject to "reasonable limits...as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".
After Emery was released on bail, he told CBC Radio that he felt he had been chosen by God to liberate marijuana users. Emery did not return a call from the Straight, passed along through Tousaw, to discuss his religious views.
Bennett said that Emery started on this mission after a woman fainted outside his City Lights bookstore in London, Ontario, several years ago. "She said, 'When I was outside of your store, I had a vision about you and a leaf, and money'," Bennett claimed. "She kind of, in many ways, prophesized [sic] the whole Marc Emery story before it was to take place."
If Emery is extradited to the United States, he faces a prison sentence of 10 years to life if he is convicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds, and conspiracy to engage in money-laundering. His associates Gregory Williams and Michelle Rainey- Fenkarek have been charged with the same offences and are also facing extradition hearings.