Friday, October 06, 2006

Alaska Constitution May Protect Religious Marijuana Use

In Lineker v. State of Alaska, (AK Ct. App., Oct. 4, 2006), an Alaska couple were arrested for possession of marijuana. They defended by invoking the free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution. Claiming to be members and ordained ministers of the Universal Life Church and the Hawaiian THC Ministry Church, they asserted that oil from the cannabis plant was an essential part of their religion. The trial court rejected the defense, holding that even if the couple held sincere religious beliefs the state had a compelling interest in enforcing its drug laws.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for the trial court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether the defendants' conduct was based on a sincere religious belief and, if so, whether the state has not merely a compelling interest in enforcing its drug laws, but whether that interest will suffer if an exemption is granted to accommodate these defendants' religious beliefs. The court said that the test under the Alaska Constitution was similar to the test under RFRA applied by the United States Supreme Court in its 2006 O Centro decision.

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