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Author Topic: Holy Smoke - cannabis use in ritual and religion  (Read 1715 times)

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Holy Smoke - cannabis use in ritual and religion
« on: June 27, 2014, 08:18:40 AM »

Holy Smoke - cannabis use in ritual and religion

There are many religious groups that use cannabis as a sacrament, or consider its use in some way holy or spiritual. Many of these groups have faced discrimination, hostility and legal challenges for pursuing an act they consider an expression of faith, and although some have powered through and gained legal (if not societal) acceptance, many still struggle for simple recognition.

The Rastafari movement

The Rastafari way of life is perhaps the most famous of all the cannabis-using religious groups. As some of the most beloved music of the 20th century was created by members of this group (for example, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley), its fame has reached global proportions, and its influence has arguably increased cultural acceptance of cannabis in many unrelated populations.

Rastafarians believe that cannabis is the "holy herb" mentioned in the Bible, and that its use deepens one's faith and connection with the divine. Despite mythologies linking cannabis use to the African ancestors of Jamaicans, it is thought that Indian migrants brought much of the modern Rastafarian smoking culture with them, due to the prevalence of Indian dialect words such as ganja within the Rastafarian lexicon.

The Church of the Universe

The Church of the Universe is one of the longest-established of the modern cannabis religions, having been established in 1969 by Walter Tucker, who died in April 2012. Members of this organisation tirelessly campaigned to have cannabis recognised as a sacrament by the U.S. courts, as they believe that its use was sanctioned in the Bible, and have been subject to arrest on numerous occasions.

In 2011, a Canadian member, Christopher Bennett unsuccessfully argued that his use of cannabis was religious in nature; however, the presiding judge ruled that Bennett's "belief that cannabis is the tree of life" did not equate to a religious practice "in and of itself". The flimsiness of this judgement is striking, given that religion is almost universally considered a matter of belief.

The Church of Reality

The Church of Reality is an American organisation that has been subject to DEA persecution and even Wikipedia "censorship" since its inception in 1998. Founder Marc Perkel states that his church is "based on the practice of realism" and is not a theist organisation; in 2006, he attempted to achieve religious exemption for cannabis use for members of his church, but was denied the exemption in 2008. His basis for appeal was that the Brazilian-based União Do Vegetal had successfully argued their right to import ayahuasca tea for use in religious rituals within the US; however, his appeal was overturned in 2010.

The THC Ministry

Another American organisation to experience persecution at the hands of the DEA is the THC Ministry, originally the Hawai'i Ministry of Cannabis Sacrament. Founded in Hawaii in June 2000, by Roger Christie, this spiritualist group holds that the mysterious ingredient qěnēh bośem (used to make the "holy anointing oil" mentioned in the Hebrew Bible) was in fact cannabis, and that its use therefore has a scriptural precedent.

The THC Ministry is recognised as a religion in at least four countries outside the USA, and at least one practitioner has attempted to cite membership as a legal defence, although unsuccessfully. In 2010, Christie and thirteen other members of the church were arrested on charges of marijuana possession and trafficking; in 2012, he remained in custody awaiting trial, having been denied bail on more than one occasion.

Temple 420

Temple 420 is another U.S.-based religious group that has experienced negative police attention: their Hollywood premises were raided in 2006, and their eccentric and much-admired leader Craig X Rubin was given three years' probation. In court, he was not permitted to mention "medical marijuana" as a defence to the jury. In 2009, their new premises were raided and Rubin imprisoned, on charges of operating an illegal facility. However, inconsistencies in the prosecution's argument (namely that Rubin in fact was in possession of the required permits) may mean that he will be acquitted, of what was arguably a "politically-motivated" charge.

The Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu

The Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu is another controversial organisation, although this example may be unusual in that persecution has occurred for reasons other than cannabis: founder Bernard von NotHaus was labelled a domestic terrorist by the FBI in 2011, following a 2007 raid which culminated in the confiscation of two tonnes of illegally minted coins, along with 500 ounces of silver and around 50 of gold. Federal prosecutors claimed that his intention was to compete with legal U.S. tender; he was convicted of counterfeiting, and is currently awaiting sentencing.

Interestingly, NotHaus managed to introduce up to $60 million of this precious metal-backed (and therefore higher in intrinsic value than the rapidly-depreciating dollar) currency into circulation before he was arrested; it was while awaiting trial for this "crime" that he refocused his attentions onto the Free Marijuana Church.

Criticism of cannabis religions

These counter-culture organisations, along with many other cannabis religions, have all attempted to rock the moral and religious status quo, and have been treated with hostility and persecuted for their efforts. Even the mighty NORML has spoken out against cannabis religions, specifically criticising Robert Christie of the THC Ministry for using what they termed a "questionable business model" in an attempt to "game the American criminal-justice system".

However, NORML's stance drew widespread criticism of its own, as many saw it as an unnecessary attack on a genuine activist working hard to promote reform in a turbulent political age. The tenacity of many of these individuals in the face of such stubborn opposition is indeed inspiring, and while some may feel their stridency compromises the credibility of the wider legalisation movement, it is beyond question that their efforts spark dialogue and widespread media attention.

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