Thursday, September 8, 2011

Court couldn't care less if you're "spiritually moved" to smoke pot

Posted by on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 PM

U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy dealt with an interesting argument recently when it came to whether or not Charles Wade Lafley, a convicted meth dealer, could smoke medical marijuana during his probation.

Lafley is a member of the Montana Cannabis Ministries, a Belgrade-based organization that believes cannabis brings one closer to God. Randy Leibenguth, who is described in court documents as "a Cannabis Sacrament Minister, a dispensary owner, and a D.J.," testified that the Ministries is "a brother of Hawaiian Cannabis Ministry, located in Hilo, Hawaii, which has been in operation for over nine years and is led by Roger Christie. " Leibenguth said Christie provided him training "through phone and e-mail conversations over the past two years" to open the Ministries. Lucas Mulvaugh, a spiritual adviser, also testified on Lafley's behalf and explained that the Ministries' key religious practice is "'baptism by fire,' which entails 'lighting a lighter or any sort of match or anything else on the religious sacrament, inhaling that and exhaling.'”

Lafley invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 in his defense, noting that he was "spiritually moved" to smoke. Molloy wasn't buying it.

“with . . . all due respect . . . it doesn’t sound like a religion to me, it sounds like a way to smoke marijuana.”

In his decision filed Sept. 1, Molloy actually side-stepped the religious argument and focused on the fact that Lafley was convicted of dealing a controlled substance. Molloy ruled that refusing him access to another controlled substance during his probation was fair punishment.

Because the government’s interest in prohibiting a convicted methamphetamine dealer from using controlled substances during supervised release is compelling, and because Standard Condition Number 7 is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest, the district court correctly imposed the condition. We need not determine, and do not reach, any other question presented, including opining under what different circumstances RFRA might require a different result.

You can read Molloy's entire summary in this PDF: Lafleydecision.pdf

The Lafley case shouldn't be confused with another probation/marijuana case that recently made news. The Helena I-R reported last week on Heidi Fields, a medical marijuana cardholder who "'has a well-documented history of chronic pain and spasticity' and a poor response to narcotics" and is currently on probation for a deceptive practices felony. She says she used a credit card that didn't belong to her and, since she is still repaying the debt, she's still on probation.

The I-R says that if Fields succeeds in her case "it could give about 1,000 medical marijuana cardholders who are under Department of Corrections supervision a chance at keeping or obtaining the cards."

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