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Docket No. DEA-331 reopened for public comment, new deadline is 11/27/09

The DEA issued an NPRM to place 5-MeO-DMT in Schedule I and has reopened the period for public comment because the first notice was defective. So far one substantial objection has been posted which objects primarily on grounds the Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional rather than the sham findings for placement in Schedule I. I'll copy some of that argument below from PUBLIC SUBMISSION DEA-2009-0008-0007.1. Docket No. DEA-331 has gotten confusing because its documents are split between two folders but comments can be submitted to the newer folder. Why not mosey over to Regulations.gov, do a search for "dea-331", read what's been posted and add your two cents worth. If we want to end the drug war we should be objecting to scheduling decisions and challenging the Constitutionality of the CSA at every opportunity. NPRMs give a chance to speak publicly without having to be on trial or able to hire lawyers. Sometimes comments do change a proposed rule and maybe a good enough argument will give a person a shot at pro bono representation. For the latter you'd normally want to identify why you're in a class that can demand a hearing and make that demand during the comment period. Be sure to read the technical stuff about what formats DEA will accept, how the comment has to identify the Docket No. it applies to and what has to be done to prevent personal identifying information from being posted. Comments can also be emailed as attachments to dea.diversion.policy@usdoj.gov or sent to the snail mail address in the notices. This is from the already posted comment I mentioned: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." -- First Amendment to the United States Constitution My first objection to the proposed rule is that the DEA is acting through delegation of a power that is Constitutionally invalid. The scheduling system of the Controlled Substances Act has been fatally flawed from its inception by its violation of the First Amendment. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention And Control Act of 1970 is deliberately not religiously neutral and one of the functions of the Controlled Substances Act is to act as a means of enforcing a primitive, muddled political-religious orthodoxy which has evolved into a primitive, muddled state religion. The CSA was intended to prefer some religious beliefs and organizations. The CSA was intended to discriminatorily and prejudicially suppress disfavored free exercise of religion that could not be extinguished. "The term 'controlled substance' means a drug or other substance, or immediate precursor, included in schedule I, II, III, IV, or V of part B of this subchapter. The term does not include distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco, as those terms are defined or used in subtitle E of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986." -- 21 U.S.C. 802(6) 21 U.S.C. 802(6) violates the Establishment Clause by giving preference to some religions. The exclusion of alcohol from possible scheduling as a controlled substance includes wine which is used sacramentally, ritually or both by many major religious denominations in the United States. This preferment is clearly no accident though it is unspoken. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention And Control Act of 1970 could not conceivably have passed if it had not given this special protection to religions which so many members of Congress (and the voters they depended on to remain members of Congress) belonged to. [snip] The CSA was passed at a time when many people, including politicians, openly expressed fear that use of certain drugs was leading to "new" and unorthodox religious beliefs within the general population, deluded mysticism, increasing numbers of people with faith who did not belong to organized religious institutions, increasing popularity of "foreign" religions and was a threat to well established religious denominations by fostering defection, heresy or schism. Extravagent claims and beliefs about religious use of psychedelic drugs from proponents and oponents were near their peak in 1970 with the news media giving the most attention to the most sensational claims. Attempts to found "psychedelic churches" or have drug laws overturned on First Amendment grounds were very troublesome to many members of Congress. Political opposition to these religious "threats" was openly advocated at that time. There was and is a remarkably anamistic view of "drugs" by opponents of their use or "abuse" and an overlapping sense of them as tools of the Devil. Religious repression has always been more than an "incidental" effect of the CSA. "The term 'controlled substance' means a drug or other substance, or immediate precursor, included in schedule I, II, III, IV, or V of part B of this subchapter. The term does not include distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco, as those terms are defined or used in subtitle E of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986." -- 21 U.S.C. 802(6) Placing a substance in a certain Schedule or removing it from a certain Schedule is primarily based on 21 U.S.C. 801, 21 U.S.C. 801a, 21 U.S.C. 802, 21 U.S.C. 811, 21 U.S.C. 812, 21 U.S.C. 813, 21 U.S.C. 814 and arbitrary decisions. The restrictive medical use provisions of all schedules prohibit religious use except when the religious use is identical to medical use as the government defines it. Even in these instances the ability to exercise religious/medical use of controlled substances is dependent on assent from government authorized people and institutions. The churchly dispensers or withholders of "gifts of grace" and healing who often abrogate choice of medicines for reasons that have little or nothing to do with medical expertise. This highlights the degree to which the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses address intertwined matters and the degree to which the federal government directly regulates the practice of medicine and the practice of pharmacy within the States (which is more of a Tenth Amendment issue). Code Of Federal Regulations SPECIAL EXEMPT PERSONS Section 1307.31 Native American Church. The listing of peyote as a controlled substance in Schedule I does not apply to the nondrug use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church, and members of the Native American Church so using peyote are exempt from registration. Any person who manufactures peyote for or distributes peyote to the Native American Church, however, is required to obtain registration annually and to comply with all other requirements of law. This exemption applies to ingestion of peyote; "nondrug use" is clearly a theological decision not a scientific one. There are indisputabley grave questions about the religious neutrality of the Controlled Substances Act since controlled substances are restricted from nonmedical use, wine is one of only four substances excluded from definition as a controlled substance and religious use is nonmedical use. These Constitutional issues have not been acknowledged by the Supreme Court when stating the Controlled Substances Act is a "neutral law of general applicability" and determing the proper standard of scrutiny for conflict with the First Amendment. [end quote] The DEA is tentatively planning to issue an NPRM in December to end the "peyote exemption" for the Native American Church. If it does issue that NPRM there will be plenty of lawyers rushing to defend the NAC and maybe some can be snagged for a direct challenge of the Controlled Substances Act. Especially likely if any NAC people decide it's better for them to challenge the CSA's Constitutionality than just seek continued special exemption from a law that oppresses everyone.

Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Religious Freedom Claim

Arizona's law protecting religious freedom does not apply to a man convicted of smoking marijuana while driving, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The ruling came in Arizona v. Hardesty.

In that case, Daniel Hardesty was arrested while driving in Yavapai County and charged with marijuana possession. At trial, he testified that he was a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based religion that says it embraces neo-Zoroastrian tenets and uses marijuana for spiritual enlightenment. He argued that Arizona's 1999 law limiting the state's ability to "burden the exercise of religion" meant he could not be prosecuted because he was exercising his religious beliefs.

The trial judge disagreed, and Hardesty was convicted. He appealed to the state Supreme Court, and has now lost there, too. In a unanimous opinion, the justices held that while the state religious freedom law mandates restrictions on religious practices only if it shows a compelling interest and that the restrictions must be the "least restrictive means of furthering that interest," the state does have a compelling interest in regulating marijuana use and Hardesty's claim that the Church of Cognizance allows him to use marijuana anywhere or any time, including driving, made it clear that the "least restrictive means" was an outright ban on marijuana.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, who authored the opinion, made a distinction between federal laws that allow Native American Church members to use peyote without fear of prosecution under state law and the religious freedom claim made by Hardesty. There was an "obvious difference" between the two situations, Berch said. "Members of the Native American Church assert only the religious right to use peyote in limited sacramental rights. Hardesty asserts the right to use marijuana whenever he pleases, including while driving," she wrote.

Monday's ruling was the second defeat in as many years for the church. Church founders Dan and Mary Quaintance were convicted of marijuana possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana after being stopped with 172 pounds of pot in New Mexico. A federal judge in New Mexico rejected their religious freedom arguments. Dan Quaintance is currently serving a five year prison sentence, and Mary Quaintance is doing two to three years.

Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Religious Freedom Claim

Arizona’s law protecting religious freedom does not apply to a man convicted of smoking marijuana while driving, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The ruling came in Arizona v. Hardesty. In that case, Daniel Hardesty was arrested while driving in Yavapai County and charged with marijuana possession. At trial, he testified that he was a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based religion that says it embraces neo-Zoroastrian tenets and uses marijuana for spiritual enlightenment. He argued that Arizona’s 1999 law limiting the state’s ability to "burden the exercise of religion" meant he could not be prosecuted because he was exercising his religious beliefs. The trial judge disagreed, and Hardesty was convicted. He appealed to the state Supreme Court, and has now lost there, too. In a unanimous opinion, the justices held that while the state religious freedom law mandates restrictions on religious practices only if it shows a compelling interest and that the restrictions must be the "least restrictive means of furthering that interest," the state does have a compelling interest in regulating marijuana use and Hardesty’s claim that the Church of Cognizance allows him to use marijuana anywhere or any time, including driving, made it clear that the "least restrictive means" was an outright ban on marijuana. Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, who authored the opinion, made a distinction between federal laws that allow Native American Church members to use peyote without fear of prosecution under state law and the religious freedom claim made by Hardesty. There was an "obvious difference" between the two situations, Berch said. "Members of the Native American Church assert only the religious right to use peyote in limited sacramental rights. Hardesty asserts the right to use marijuana whenever he pleases, including while driving,'' she wrote. Monday’s ruling was the second defeat in as many years for the church. Last year, church founders Dan and Mary Quaintance were convicted of marijuana possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana after being stopped with 172 pounds of pot in New Mexico. A federal judge in New Mexico rejected their religious freedom arguments. Dan Quaintance is currently serving a five year prison sentence, and Mary Quaintance is doing two to three years.

Job Opportunity I: Executive Director, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, Washington, DC

The Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI), based in Washington, DC, is seeking a new executive director to lead efforts toward non-punitive, non-coercive drug policies nationwide.

IDPI mobilizes religious denominations and organizations, clergy, and other people of faith to promote the drug policy reform proposals currently under serious consideration in Congress and several states (e.g., medical marijuana, sentencing reform, and needle exchange), while gradually building public support for replacing drug prohibition with reasonable regulations. IDPI has mobilized hundreds of clergy behind successful legislative campaigns.

Candidates must have a proven track record of strong, results-oriented management, as well as outstanding fundraising abilities and excellent oral and written communication skills. Although it is not necessary to be an ordained clergy person, the executive director must have credibility within the faith community and be able to persuade and organize religious leaders from a wide variety of denominations. He/she must be a strategic thinker with high motivation, persistence, resourcefulness, and focus. Nonprofit management experience is a plus, whether or not faith-based.

The executive director will maintain IDPI at its present level of operation (three employees) and soon expand the organization into a larger, more formidable opponent of the "war on drugs." The executive director reports to the organization's board of directors, develops the annual budget, and establishes measurable goals in collaboration with other drug policy reform organizations. To these ends, he/she will oversee IDPI's fundraising efforts (including a membership renewal program) and directly solicit contributions from large donors; ensure that IDPI's strategy is sound and the tactics are effective and cost-efficient; recruit, hire, and manage the staff, with an emphasis on setting and meeting clear and ambitious goals; ensure that IDPI remains in compliance with relevant non-profit laws and financial regulations; and participate in some of IDPI's programmatic work, such as directly educating and soliciting the involvement of religious leaders, generating favorable media coverage, and speaking at public forums.

The starting salary is between $70,000 and $85,000, with the possibility of rapidly increasing well beyond $100,000 depending on the success of his/her fundraising efforts.

To apply, please visit http://www.idpi.us for application process and follow application instructions.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda," by Gretchen Peters (2009, Thomas Dunne Press, 300 pp., $25.95 HB)

Gretchen Peters certainly has a sense of timing. She spent the last decade covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, first for the Associated Press and later for ABC News, and managed to bring "Seeds of Terror" to press just as the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan begin lurching toward a new approach to drug policy there. Just this past weekend, the US announced it was giving up on trying to eradicate its way to victory over the poppy crop, and for the past few weeks, news accounts of US and NATO attacks on traffickers, opium stockpiles, and heroin labs have been coming at a steady, if not escalating, pace.

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Afghan opium
Peters' thesis -- that the immensely lucrative opium and heroin trade is funding the Taliban and Al Qaeda to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which they use to wage their insurgency against the West and allies in Afghanistan -- while portrayed as stunning and shocking, is nothing new to readers of the Chronicle, or anyone else who has been following events in Afghanistan since before the 2001 US invasion.

But where "Seeds of Terror" shines is in its unparalleled detail and depth of knowledge of the drug trade, the Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgency, the Pakistan connection, and the intricate and complicated linkages between the actors. With access to government and security officials from the US, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and through interviews with everyone from simple famers to fighters to opium traders and even some amazingly high-up people in the international heroin trade, Peters is able to navigate and share with readers the murky, ever shifting nature of the beast.

She is especially useful in unraveling the various groupings that are simplistically referred to as "the Taliban." There is no single Taliban, Peters explains; there are rival warlords (Hekmatyar, Haqqani, Mullah Omar) running their drug empires and fighting to drive out the Westerners, their jihadist convictions clouded more each year in a haze of opium smoke and illicit profits. And then there are what are in essence criminal drug trafficking organizations. They, too, will identify themselves as Taliban for pragmatic reasons -- the intimidation factor, mainly -- but have little interest in holy war, except as it provides the chaotic cover for their underground trade.

Actually, as Peters details, the story goes back a generation further, to the last great American intervention into this Fourth World country on the other side of the planet. Then, during the Reagan-era sponsorship of the Afghan mujahedeen fighting to drive out the Soviet Red Army, millions of Afghans fled into refugee camps in Pakistan, and would-be warlords and foreign jihadis (including a young Osama bin Laden), tussled for the billions of dollars coming from Washington and doled out by Pakistani intelligence, or, alternately, from funding sources in Saudi Arabia.

Those warlords turned Pakistan, particularly the refugee-ridden Northwest Frontier territories into a leading opium producer during the 1980s, to ensure sources of funding for their armies, and secondarily, to turn as many Russian soldiers into junkies as they could. The Pakistani drug trafficking networks, including some very highly placed army and other officials, set up then are still the main conduits for the opium and heroin leaving Afghanistan today. Man, talk about your blowback.

Peters has a keen grasp of local affairs, knows how to write, and has constructed a gripping and informative narrative. But, faced with a counterinsurgency effort that has floundered, in good part because of profits from the illicit drug trade keeping the Taliban well-supplied with shiny new weapons, she cannot resist the temptation to try her own hand at recommending more effective policies. Here, unfortunately, she is decidedly conventional and unquestioning of the prohibitionist paradigm.

For example, the proposal floated by The Senlis Council in 2005 to simply buy up the poppy crop and divert it into the legitimate medical market gets remarkably short shrift. Peters devotes a mere paragraph to the plan, dismissing it as not pragmatic -- a position not universally held by experts.

Similarly, her policy prescriptions, while including such progressive developmentalist planks as alternative livelihood programs, strengthening institutions, and opening new markets for new crops, also include a call to "arrest or kill" drug kingpins, heroin lab chemists, and even mid-level traffickers. She also advocates air strikes against smuggling convoys, "smarter" counterinsurgency, and beefed up law enforcement against the "bad guys."

Peters' thinking on drug policy may be decidedly inside the box, but her contribution to our understanding of the complex nexus between the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan, local insurgencies, and global jihadi ambitions is important and chilling. This is the best layperson's guide to that nexus out there.

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Targets Informal Saints of the Poor and the Narcos

Beware San Malverde! Watch out, Santa Muerte! The enemies of Mexico's violent and thriving illicit drug trade are after you. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last weekend that Mexican authorities destroyed dozens of religious shrines paying homage to Santa Muerte (Saint Death), an informal Catholic saint favored by the poor as well as by criminals and drug traffickers, and San Malverde, a similar figure based on a peasant highwayman of the late 19th century.

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San Malverde picture, with Malverde pot leaf, Malverde keychain and Malverde pot leaf belt buckle (author's personal collection)
Images of both saints have been appropriated by Mexico's drug traffickers and have been found on walls, tattoos, pendants, belt buckles, even engraved into the grips of pistols. For US law enforcement, coming across either saint is strongly indicative of drug trade activity. But the saints are also widely revered by Mexico's Catholic poor. Marches for Santa Muerte have drawn thousands of adherents in Mexico City, and San Malverde branded beer is available in Sinaloa, his home state and home of the Sinaloa cartel.

Four shrines to Santa Muerte and one to San Malverde were destroyed last Saturday in Tijuana and nearby Rosarito Beach. Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos said it was a military action, but the military has not confirmed that. Two days later, city and federal officials destroyed 34 more Santa Muerte chapels that had sprung up in recent years along the highway between Monterrey and the border town of Nuevo Laredo.

For officials, the unsanctioned saints are, like the narcocorridos (drug ballads), celebrating the exploits of drug traffickers, evidence of the drug culture seeping into broader civic culture. "This is a subject that must open a great social debate in Tijuana," Ramos said in an interview last week. "Should we permit these spaces where hired assassins who kill children, families, police seek protection? What side are we on? I am on the side of tranquility and security."

Ramos, a member of President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party (PAN), is pushing censorship as a response to the spreading drug culture. He is agitating for a package of bills before the Baja California legislature that would ban the broadcast of narcocorridos, as well as videos and images that would "glorify" drug traffickers.

But such plans have their critics, who argue that destroying shrines will not accomplish anything and that the informal saints are adored by many who have nothing to do with drug trafficking. "Destroying these chapels is not going to do anything to diminish crime," said Jose Manuel Valenzuela, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Tijuana think-tank. "Someone who's going to commit a crime could just as easily go to a Catholic church as a Santa Muerte shrine, or go nowhere at all."

The people who came to the Tijuana shrines last week only to find they had been destroyed were not happy. "I feel so angry," said Zaida Romero, 33, a used-clothing vendor and single mother of seven, standing by the pile of rubble and twisted metal on the day the shrines were destroyed March 21. "She has helped me so, so, so much," said Romero, explaining that La Santa Muerte helped her overcome cancer.

Religious Freedom: Arizona Supreme Court to Hear Case on Spiritual Right to Marijuana

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up a case where the appellant is arguing that he has a constitutionally-protected right to use and possess marijuana as a sacrament of his church. Both the trial judge and a state appeals court rejected that argument. (See the appeals court opinion here.)

Daniel Hardesty is a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based religion based on "neo-Zoroastrian tenets" that believes marijuana provides great spiritual benefits. He was convicted of marijuana and paraphernalia possession after being arrested in Yavapai County in 2005.

If the state high court rules in his favor, it would be the first time any Arizona court has recognized a religious defense for those who use marijuana. But it would not be the first time church members have been caught up in the courts. Last August, church founders Dan and Mary Quaintance pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana after US District Court judge in New Mexico rejected their religious freedom claims.

But while no Arizona court has found a religious defense for marijuana use, courts there have found a religious defense for use of another drug: peyote. But the appeals court drew a distinction between peyote use and Hardesty's case. According to the appeals court, religious use of peyote by the Native American church amounted to use by a "discrete and well-defined group" and that prosecutors had never shown peyote was addictive or being used in harmful manners.

Expect oral arguments and then a ruling one of these months.

Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court to Hear Case Asserting Religious Right to Use, Possess

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether there is a religious right to possess marijuana. The issue is being raised in Arizona v. Hardesty, in which Daniel Hardesty, a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based church that practices neo-Zoroastrian tenets and believes marijuana provides spiritual enlightenment and a connection to the divine mind.

Hardesty was arrested for marijuana possession after being stopped for a burned out headlight in 2005 and convicted of marijuana and paraphernalia possession in district court despite arguing that First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion entitled him to use and possess marijuana as a sacrament in his church. Hardesty appealed, but lost in the appeals court as well.

In rejecting Hardesty's appeal, the appeals court held that while he has the right to believe what he wants, the First Amendment protections do not give him the right to commit criminal offenses for religious reasons. The appeals court also said the legislature has a legitimate interest in banning marijuana and the courts should not second-guess the legislature.

If the state Supreme Court overturns the lower court decisions, it will be the first time an Arizona court has allowed for the religious use of marijuana -- but not the first time an Arizona court has allowed for the religious use of a controlled substance. Arizona courts have ruled repeatedly that the possession of peyote for religious purposes by the Native American Church is allowable.

The appeals court argued that was different. With peyote, there was never any finding that the cactus was addictive or being used in quantities harmful to the health of participants. Also, peyote was used by a "discrete and well-defined group," the court held. Now, one of these months, we'll see if the state Supreme Court agrees.

Marijuana: Arizona Court of Appeals Rejects Religious Defense

In a July 31 decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals has held that there is no religious right to possess marijuana. In so doing, the court rejected the appellant's argument that his right to possess marijuana for religious reasons was protected by both the Arizona and the US Constitution.

The ruling came in Arizona v. Hardesty, a case that began when Daniel Hardesty was pulled over by a police officer in 2005 and subsequently charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia after the officer first smelled smoked marijuana in the vehicle, then found a joint Hardesty admitted tossing from his window. Hardesty, a member of the Church of Cognizance, argued at trial that he used marijuana for religious purposes and should be exempt from prosecution under both Arizona and federal law. The trial court disagreed.

Now, so has the appeals court. While the court accepted that Hardesty's religious beliefs were sincere, it rejected his arguments that under the free exercise of religion, he had the right to use marijuana as a sacrament. Hardesty had conceded that marijuana is a drug that could have harmful effects and that the state had a "compelling interest" in regulating it, but argued that it had not been regulated in a manner that was "least restrictive" when applied to religion.

In his opinion, Appellate Judge Sheldon Weisberg wrote that while the First Amendment guarantees an absolute right to hold a religious belief, it does not guarantee the same absolute right to put that belief into practice. Similarly, Weisberg held that provisions of Arizona law designed to protect religious freedom did not encompass the religious use of marijuana, citing the state legislature's outright ban on the use and possession of marijuana.

"This statute does not provide any religious exemptions nor does it contemplate an exemption for the use of marijuana that would be consistent with public health and safety," the judge wrote for the unanimous court. "By imposing a total ban, the legislature has deemed that the use and possession of marijuana always pose a risk to public health and welfare."

But the appeals court did leave open the possibility that it could decide differently if someone came before it persuasively arguing that marijuana is not as dangerous as the government suggests. In that case, the "compelling interest" of the state in maintaining a complete prohibition on marijuana would presumably be weakened.

Attorney Daniel DeRiezo, who represents Hardesty, told the Arizona Star after the decision that prosecutors had engaged in "Reefer Madness arguments" in alleging that marijuana use could result in serious harm. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely, he said.

Europe: Rastafarians Can Smoke Marijuana, Italian Court Rules

The Italian Court of Cassation, the highest criminal court in the land, has thrown out the drug trafficking conviction of a Rastafarian, saying the amount of marijuana he possessed was consistent with the heavy use that comes with his religious beliefs.

Under Italian law, using or possessing small amounts of marijuana is not a crime, but possessing larger amounts can bring a drug trafficking charge. That's what happened to an Italian Rastafarian from Perugia, who was sentenced to 16 months in jail and a $5,000 fine for possession of about 3 1/2 ounces of marijuana.

But the Court of Cassation said the court of first appeal had failed to consider that the man smoked because of his religious beliefs. According to the high court, Rastafarianism allows for smoking up to 10 grams a day. Rastas smoke the herb "with the memory and in the belief that the sacred plant grew on the tomb of King Solomon," the court said. They use it "not only as a medical but also as a meditative herb. And, as such [it is] a possible bearer of the psychophysical state of contemplation and prayer."

The conservative Italian government is not happy. The ruling "shatters the laws which forbid and proscribe penal sanctions for" the use of illegal drugs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said in remarks reported by London's The Independent.

"Today we learn a Rasta is free to go around with drugs. If somebody belonged to a religion which permitted them to eat their children, would they give them the go-ahead, too?" worried right-wing Senator Maurizio Gasparri.

Radical Party Senator Marco Perduca was more concerned about practitioners of Italy's most popular religion. He suggested to ItaliaNews that Italian Catholic pot smokers should find their own saint to worship.

The reaction was also more upbeat at Rototom Sunsplash, Europe's largest reggae festival, which happened to be occurring as the ruling came down. "Finally the principle of religious pluralism is beginning to make headway," Filippo Giunta, president of the festival, said. "This judgment... underlines again the difference between this substance and so-called 'hard' drugs, alcohol included."

The ruling recognizing the spiritual use of marijuana is the first in Europe. Advocates of religious marijuana use have made little headway in the courts in the US, despite devoted efforts, although the Guam Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that a Guamanian Rasta charged with importing marijuana could not be prosecuted because his use was religious.

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