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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Idaho’s Freedom of Religion Act fails to protect Boisean from marijuana charge

A Boise man has failed to convince Idaho's Court of Appeals that he can't be prosecuted for marijuana possession because he used the weed as a religious sacrament after Idaho lawmakers in 2000 voted to elevate religious rights over all other rights in the state's "Free Exercise of Religion" act. That law, pushed by then-Idaho pastor Bryan Fischer, an outspoken Christian conservative who a year later was named chaplain of the Idaho Senate, and passed over the objections of nearly all the state's mainstream churches, promised attorney fees and costs to anyone who wins a case under it claiming the government violated their religious rights.

Cary William White was arrested for marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia after a traffic stop in 2007, and he appealed his case to the state Court of Appeals, saying his religion, including a mix of Christianity, Rastafarianism, and various other beliefs, was behind his marijuana use. "The sacrament of Marijuana is a gift from my creator and I enter into the experience of Marijuana with the intent to bless it," White said in court documents.

He said he had been smoking marijuana for seven years after trying it as a natural pain reliever after a fall from a ladder, and he found it to be a "spiritual experience" that "drew me into a whole different mode of prayer." He also told a lower court that marijuana calmed his mind and that he used it as an exercise of his belief that he should have the freedom to engage in such actions.

Idaho's Court of Appeals judges, in a unanimous decision authored by Judge Sergio Gutierrez, tossed out White's appeal. "While White may have testified in a manner to link his marijuana use to legitimate religious beliefs and practices, this was more of an instance where he has utilized parts of various recognized religions 'to meld into a justification for his use of marijuana' and did not ... establish a link between any recognized religious beliefs he may have and his marijuana use," the court wrote. The judges also pointed to a 1995 federal court case that warned that religious freedom laws could become "the first refuge of scoundrels if defendants could justify illegal conduct simply by crying 'religion.'"

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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