R. v. The Doobie Brethren

How drug laws have forced the courts to distinguish between ‘real’ religions and ‘fake’ ones


Smokers High Life/Flickr

From the Postmedia wire, today:

Christopher Bennett, who claimed that he should be allowed to smoke up to seven grams of marijuana—about 35 joints—every day for religious purposes, argued that Canada’s drug laws infringed upon his religious rights.

But in a 21-page ruling, Judge Michel Shore wrote, “While the applicant has shown that his practice is based on the belief that cannabis is the tree of life, this, in and of itself, does not make it a religious practice.”

Kind of bizarre if you think about it, isn’t it? The idea that “cannabis is the tree of life” could not more obviously be a religious concept, in the ordinary meaning of the term “religious”. What else would you call it? And what would you call an activity predicated on such a belief? If the belief is assumed to be sincere, and Judge Shore specifically concedes this assumption, then it’s a religious practice. The sentence in quotation marks is, when read as plain English, oddly nonsensical.

The nonsense cannot be held against Judge Shore, however; the weight of the caselaw surrounding “freedom of religion” made any other decision impossible. We get into a bit of a fix when we protect “freedom of religion” in a manner separate from the protection of ordinary secular thought and expression; for what is it that we are protecting? It means, in the parlance developed over time in the English-speaking world, that the state disavows the right to mandate or establish some particular religious practice or doctrine; to subject anyone to a religious opinion test as a condition for citizenship benefits or public office; or to single out the beliefs, teachings, and non-harmful rites of any faith for suppression. Freedom of religion is nowhere understood as requiring the state to exonerate a murderer who says “God told me to”; the freedom attaches only to behaviour that does not obtrude onto the rights of others.

Unfortunately, we also have some curious laws against ingesting or inhaling particular substances, and these laws could not stand if “religion” were taken to mean “any strongly held belief about morals and conduct.” Any libertarian’s hatred of the War on Drugs would qualify easily. I went to university with David Malmo-Levine, whose name ended up on a major Supreme Court pot case; I can promise you that marijuana is more important to Malmo-Levine than Jesus is to almost anybody.

So the courts, in order to preserve the state’s power to regulate unobtrusive and victimless personal behaviour, are forced to introduce a practical distinction between legitimate or authentic, and thus protected, religious practices—those that are part of a “particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship”—and those that simply follow from the convictions of an individual. Such a distinction ought to be outrageous to anybody who is not religious.

(And even if you are religious, you might note that Christianity took a long time to become a “particular and comprehensive system”. What we have here is a “freedom of religion” test that wouldn’t have prevented the Crucifixion.)

Moreover, the test really seems pretty easy to game, with a little forethought. By a non-coincidence that has been happy for the judiciary, the potheads who have hitherto tried to claim religious protection have been too stupid to build a proper L. Ron Hubbard-esque structure that would help them acquire it. Judge Shore writes almost with pity of the applicant in today’s case, Christopher Bennett:

On cross-examination, the Applicant eventually volunteered that—in addition to the secular belief that cannabis is the tree of life—he and members of the Church of the Universe share one other seemingly unrelated belief: that “god is god.” Even if one also considers this additional tautological belief, which the Applicant conceded “can mean many things to many individuals,” there is still no evidence that the Applicant’s marihuana use has any connection with a “comprehensive system of faith and worship” as described by the Supreme Court in Amselem.

For example, the Applicant failed to establish any connection between his practice and any moral or ethical precepts or obligations. He did not even suggest that there are any restrictions imposed by the Church of the Universe on the use of marihuana by its adherents. He did not indicate that the Church prohibits the consumption of marihuana in the presence of children or while driving a car or operating heavy machinery. To the contrary, on cross-examination the Applicant repeatedly maintained that all uses of cannabis, no matter what the context, are “sacramental” (and thus presumably permitted). His evidence on this point is consistent with the evidence of the accused in R. v. Hunter, above, who testified that the moral dictates of the Church of the Universe could be summed up by the phrase “[d]o as you will”.

There is also no indication that the Applicant’s practice of consuming marihuana is connected to or part of a particular or comprehensive system of worship. The Applicant never suggested that he consumes marihuana as part of any prescribed rites, rituals, ceremonies or holidays. Given the fact that his daily habit of consuming seven grams of marihuana involves smoking up to 35 joints, the evidence suggests that the Applicant effectively smokes marihuana almost constantly, no matter what the context (he even admitted to having smoked marihuana before his cross-examination in this case). When asked why he requested an exemption to produce and possess enough marihuana to consume seven grams of marihuana per day (as opposed to some other quantity), the Applicant did not point to any religious reasons. Rather, he simply answered that he thought that such a quantity was “pretty reasonable.”

This passage from Shore’s ruling is pure comedy. Which may make you overlook its other potential function: as a convenient guidebook for those who want to start more robust insta-religions that list marijuana among the sacraments. All you need is a “comprehensive system”! You need only assemble some rites and moral precepts and endow them with a vague metaphysical colouring; the world’s history offers a dazzling array of magic undergarments and dietary no-nos to choose from. It would be useful to have a holy book and a creation myth; neither would be difficult to concoct, and plagiarizing from established tradition can only enhance your prestige.

If you find yourself trying to defend your religious eccentricities as “reasonable”, however, you have missed the point. The less reasonable they are—if they’re otherwise harmless—the more convincing the religiousness!


R. v. The Doobie Brethren

  1. Colby, your plan is really fantastic and organized…when you’re smoking 35 joints a day….wait I lost my train of thought…..

    • cannabis increases brain cell growth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXm4cEanyqc 
      what makes you assume I am suffering from a intellectual deficit?  http://www.forbiddenfruitpublishing.com/Main/HomePage 
      Here I am stoned http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=chris+bennett+marijuana&oq=chris+bennett+marijuana&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=102924l109980l0l110489l31l29l4l16l20l0l177l1043l3.6l9l0

      • What I assume is that you are smoking low quality cannabis if you are truly smoking 35 joints a day and you are still coherent.

      • YouTube videos telling me “cannabis” (can’t you just call it “pot” or “marijuana”, at least?) increases brain cell growth are very convincing.

        Especially if I was a rat.

        Morning talk-show news clips are not science, it turns out. And such places have a very, very bad track record on scientific reporting.

        (Look, man. I think pot should be legal, and that you should be able to smoke as much of it as you want.

        But this? This is bullshit. Stop making your own side look bad with it – because that’s what you’re doing. It’s sloppy, and it shows a bad understanding of how medical science works, and it makes people think [accurately!] that you’re more interested in pushing pot as some sort of wonder-drug than in simply removing unjust laws.

        Especially since HI was talking about the incoherence of being really stoned – which has absolutely nothing to do with “brain cell growth” in rats, or even in people.)

  2. Have any Rastafarians challenged Canadian law on limits on their use of the sacred herb?

    • Not without other obviating issues being present. The Rastas are presumably reluctant because it might create immigration difficulties.

      • Colby if you want more info on the case, as there is a lot more to it, feel free to contact me, chris bennett, freeshiva@hotmail.com 

  3. While I support Bennett’s right to worship God any way he wishes I am amazed he’s organized enough to get out of bed in morning if he’s smoking 7 grams of ganja a day. 

    Is Bennett a white guy? I bet he is. I am getting sick and tired of State picking on white guys and banning things because it doesn’t approve of their behaviour. I wonder why Bennett didn’t claim to be a Rasta. 

    This is like yesterday’s polygamy case – pick an unsympathetic defendant and then punish them. I know of two people who are in peculiar relationships that involve more than 3 people but I am sure they will not be prosecuted by State because they are regular middle class people who are not obviously flouting social mores. 

    I wish Caribbean person who is Rasta was brought up on charges and claimed to smoke a quarter ounce a day.

    • The smoking 7 grams of cannabis a day was something concocted by Health Canada’s lawyer and carried on by this nit wit judge. The majority of cannabis i use is vaporised, I also eat cannabis in food, drink it in beverages and make topical preparations of it. Thus the 7 grams…… You are right, there was prejudice in this decision. 

      • With due respect, though, it doesn’t sound as though you use or dispose of any of the amount in a way that wouldn’t get you high.

        • Well vaporizing uses more than smoking, and the holy oil is not very active but takes a lot. The harms referred to by Shore and Heath Canada, are mostly about the harm of smoking, and in regards to my intellectual capabilities, I’m doing great. But no doubt about it I do like to achieve a higher state of being. 

  4. 35 joint from 7 grams? Damn I’m doing it all wrong

  5. Chris Bennett, here, for starters, i mostly vaporise cannabis, not smoke it, I also eat it, make beverages from it, and topical preparations, thus the 7 grams a day. Judge Shore was aware of this, but then disingenuously refers only to smoked marijuana. Cannabis has been used for similar purposes of collecting to the divine such as the Church of the Universe does, for thousands of years. I presented 2 books on this to the court forbiddenfruitpublishing.com/Main/HomePage as well as this government sponsored report that verifies much of my research into this realm http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/371/ille/library/Spicer-e.htm     In regards to the curious statement by the judge, that my use of cannabis as the tree of life, has no nexus with religion the  the Tree of Life is the crowning moment of the Bible, Revelation 22, its arrival signals the end of the book. It is God’s miracle on earth. And this is supposed to have no nexus with religion?
    In r vs. Hunter, the judge agreed that Hunter used it a s a sacrament, that cannabis had played a role in religion, but he could not allow the case to go further, as it would open it up to cannibals, who ritually eat people, and Thuggees, who ritually murder and rob people, to be allowed to practice their faith! a mute point, as both those scenarios require victims, and the violation of someones’ charter rights, whereas cannabis is a victimless crime. So the point was mute. 
    The rulings of the court regarding cannabis as  a sacrament, are ludicrous as cannabis has always played a role in religion http://www.opposingviews.com/i/cannabis-has-always-played-an-important-role-in-religion
    I don’t care whether someone is a Jew, Christian or Moselm, or any other religion, but if you are  a member of those faiths, then you had better believe that God created the earth, and the plants of the earth. Any follower of the book who prohibits a plant from another, by their own standard, stands in opposition to God’s first major covenant with man, through the gift of ‘every herb bearing seed’ (Genesis 1) . That includes the nitwit Judge, Miche M.J. Shore http://cannabisculture.com/v2/content/2011/11/14/Religious-Cannabis-User-Awaits-Judgment-Day-Federal-Court-Case
    Moreover this also shows that the Canadian charter’s claim that it is based on “The Supremacy of god and the Law’ is patently false, as God is my co defendant, and I stand with his gift of the Tree of Life. 
    Sincerely, Chris Bennett 

    • 1. Re: R. v. Hunter – conduct does not require either victim or harm to be considered criminal. Malmo-Levine made that quite clear. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, it may not accord with your personal morality, but, nevertheless, the principle remains. 
      Nor would Charter rights be at issue concerning the victims of violent religious practices – Charter protects individuals from government conduct, not conduct of other individuals. 
      2. Disingenuousness? Hardly. The judge referred merely to consumption of seven grams of marijuana. Presumably you could be smoking anywhere from 0% to 100% of that amount. I agree that Canada’s marijuana laws are asinine. However, the way to fix this is not to pursue loopholes for specific persons or groups. A legislative solution is required which will address the problem for all people – write your MP. Failing that…the next Fed election, I suppose. Ugh, four years. 

        • I wish them every success. However, I don’t think this is within the power of provincial governments to achieve. Crime, and therefore the CDSA is the purview of the Federal government. The SCC has a lengthy history of striking down provincial legislation which frustrates Federal objectives in this area. 

          • That’s the thing, isn’t it?  Politicians who have ZERO power to do anything substantial about drug policy come out with pronouncements like this.  But politicians who actually have the power or influence to change drug policies refuse to touch the issue.

      • The judge said i smoked 7 gram, 35 joints, I do not, and never indicated that anywhere. I sue cannabis in  a variety of manners, not much smoked. This is not a loophole, Canada has charter rights regarding freedom of religion, and I have been practicing my faith for over 20 years. I do support full legalization however, and I have done loads of work in that area, if you google my name and ‘marijuana’ you will see the extent of that. 

        • 1. The judge stated that you consume seven grams daily, and did not specify what proportion of your use related to smoking versus other means of consumption. The 35 joint figure appears to have been illustrative, intended to give the reader a pragmatic understanding of how much or how little seven grams actually is. 

          2. This is a loophole, in my view. I don’t mean to impugn the sincerity of your faith in any way in saying this – I don’t know and honestly don’t care about the extent of your religious belief. What I do mean by “loophole” is that the approach you employed uses ambiguity in the Charter concerning the definition of religious belief to ground a challenge against the CDSA. The problem with this, other than that people who don’t share your beliefs will still be governed by asinine marijuana legislation, is that it has led to the SCC defining religion for Charter purposes very narrowly and stringently.  

          • 7 gram is pretty middle of the road in regards to what medical users receive in there exemptions. I am a business owner, a writer a parent and more, my mental capabilities are fine, and I have used cannabis for over 37 years. The government has already granted a tentative exemption for the use of the powerful psychedelic brew, ayahuasca, cannabis use has a much more established history of spiritual use, and the Church I  am in is  older than many ayahusca churches. The fact is, religious freedom is a Charter right already, legalization is a long ways off, but something I work towards as well

  6. also, in regards to Do as Thou will, lets look at the original context of this statement in the works of the 15th century cannabis heretic Francois Rabelais, http://www.alchemylab.com/cannabis_stone3.htm  and consider it in the context of prohibition :

    Do What Thou Wilt; because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.

  7. Anyone interested in actually finding out what my beliefs in cannabis are can check out my books and articles at http://www.forbiddenfruitpublishing.com or google ‘jesus cannabis’ or youtube and google search ‘chris bennett cannabis’  . The judge in this case was not only disingenuous, but he is kind of a nut as well, I will be asking my lawyer about the possibility of  a retrial, let alone an appeal. 

    • Interesting. I didn’t know about ganja and Christianity connections but do know about health affects.

      What is so confusing to me is that you live in BC – where Insite is located – but The State is punishing you for no particular reason. I wish our bureaucracy could get its act together and decide if we punish or enable drug culture.

      I do think there is prejudice against white males because I am having hard time imagining a similar ruling if it was anyone but white male. Judge is questioning religious beliefs and you put together a reasoned argument which he dismissed. State is deciding what is and isn’t religion and as Cosh argues eccentricities abound within religious practices.

      Sunday Times UK ~ 2003

      Was Jesus a Stoner? is the mischievous title of an article about the use of cannabis in ancient Judaism in next month’s High Times, a pro-cannabis magazine. Its author, Chris Bennett, likes to shock. He is the host of Burning Shiva, a show on Canada’s Pot-TV, and an advocate for the medical use and decriminalisation of marijuana.

      Bennett first looked at the use of drugs in religion two years ago in his book Sex, Drugs, Violence, and the Bible. He postulates that Jesus’s ministry was fuelled by mind-altering substances, that he may have used cannabis-based oils to heal eye and skin diseases and that his very name – Christ – derives from being anointed with cannabis-enriched oil.

      His politics and television career might make it tempting to dismiss him but what Bennett says makes perfect sense. Over the centuries drugs have been used by virtually all religions. Why not Christianity?
      In ancient times cannabis was widely cultivated throughout the Middle East. It grows like a weed and provides nourishing seed, which is also a good source of fibre used to make rope.

  8. details about the nitwit judge Michel Shore’s peculiar behavior at my case can be found here http://www.cannabisculture.com/v2/content/2011/11/14/Religious-Cannabis-User-Awaits-Judgment-Day-Federal-Court-Case 

  9. The disdain drips off the page I enjoy reading passionate works. The author seems to despise every one but himself. Most will think what I did Junk Journalism.

  10. This comment was deleted.

    • This just plain spam, dishonest and has nothing to do with this topic. Begone spammer!

  11. Mr Cosh your disdain for the rule of law is duly noted.  

    • When the law extends privileges to believers that are not available to atheists and other freethinkers, that is not “rule of law”, but its opposite.

      • The Canadian Charter has a freedom of Religion clause, that is a legal reality, not, opposite of the rule of law. I do think however, that all people have  a natural right to the plants of the earth, that is even more important than religious freedoms, but that has no legal bearing. 

      • I agree that atheists groups are eerily similar to religious groups they claim to oppose, but that’s just you and me. Like Chris said, religious beliefs are enshrined in our Charter and the judge can’t simply say “well I think this should all be lumped together”.The judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make it up as we go along.

  12. What happened to gold old common sense?

    I don’t need to read a libertarian naval gazing exercise to tell me what Canada is about.

    God protect us from libertarians and lawyers (and all those who support them)!

    • When the law extends privileges to believers that are not available to atheists and other freethinkers, that is not “common sense”, but its opposite.

      • Actually that is your personal opinion, with no laws that back it up. The Canadian Charter has a freedom of Religion clause, that is a legal reality, I do think however, that all people have  a natural right to the plants of the earth, that is even more important than religious freedoms, but that has no legal bearing.

  13. You only have to look at the writing of Rasta Men and Church of Universe to confirm there is a link between cannabis and mental illness.I’ll have to look at Bennet’s too.

    • Eric, hear is some academic reviews of my work…..                                                            
      A treasure trove of up-to-date ancient information on cannabis. High recommended to round out your library on religious uses of psychoactive drugs.Julie Holland, MD
      Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine
      Editor, The Pot Book. A Complete Guide To Cannabis.
      Editor, Ecstasy: The Complete Guide.I have read Mr. Bennett’s several books on this subject and am in general agreement with what he states, especially about the extent to which the Vedic hallucinogen Soma was probably made from cannabis. Indeed, his research has changed my own thinking about this ancient conundrum (heretofore, the majority of scholars have suggested that Soma was prepared from psychotropic mushrooms).As Chris Bennett amply demonstrates in this seminal book, the ritual use of cannabis has a very long history. It extends from Vedic India in the second millennium, B.C.E., where the hallucinogen in question was known as Soma, classical Greece, ancient Israel where it appears as keneh bosem, and the steppes of Central Asia, where, according to Herodotus in Book IV of his History, the ancient Scythians ritually inhaled the fumes given off by burning cannabis leaves. Indeed, the plant has consistently occupied a central position in shamanic cults almost everywhere. In more recent times, and especially in the twentieth century, users of cannabis for spiritual purposes have unfortunately been persecuted, in the United States and elsewhere, by authorities enforcing laws against its possession. A good example can be seen in the ongoing attempts to suppress its use in the Rastafarian religion. In short, I heartily recommend Bennett’s book to anyone seeking a better understanding of this well-nigh universal, albeit all too often misunderstood hallucinogen and its crucial role in the history of human spirituality.C. Scott Littleton, Ph.D.Professor of Anthropology, EmeritusOccidental College
      “The book is fascinating! There can be little doubt about a role for Cannabis in Judaic religion… there is no way that so important a plant as a fiber source for textiles and nutritive oils and one so easy to grow would have gone unnoticed, and the mere harvesting of it would have induced an entheogenic reaction.”
      -Professor of Classical Mythology at Boston University and author, Carl P. Ruck”Scholarly, hip, witty and extremely well documented… This book might cause a revolution in biblical studies!”
      -Robert Anton Wilson, Philosopher, Author and Lecturer”…SEX, DRUGS, VIOLENCE AND THE BIBLE is…excellent… especially in its detailing the early history… politics… [and] the… seamy sides of Christianity… Read Bennett before rereading the Bible!”-Jonathon Ott, Entheobotanist, Author and Lecturer

    • One has only to look at your statement to see a link between your bias and your ignorance.

  14. Cannabis Sativa isn’t even a tree.  It is an annual.  

  15. Well the trial judge did find that the tree of life bit was just another way of saying marijuana had many beneficial uses.  The language regarding sincerity tends to centre on the belief that marijuana is good and that the accused believed his use was religious, the language regarding (for want of a better term) the supernatural aspects of his belief tend to use language like “claims” or “maintains”.  This is not to say the judge isn’t basing his decision on there being few trappings or tenents of this particular “church”.

    • not a criminal case . . . the Applicant, not the Accused

  16. The war on drugs is a wasteful war on families. Should people also be jailed for wine?

    Before judging others for choosing a safer alternative to alcohol, please learn more about why prohibition doesn’t work.http://www.leap.cc/

  17. Freedom of religion should be just that, free. Free and
    protected from those who would turn a blind eye to the past, attempt to discern
    what can or cannot be considered “religious sacrament”, or to question
    religious reasonability when the actions are harmless to both others and the
    individual consuming the “sacrament”.

    The “religious past” when researched, will reveal many uses
    of cannabis as “religious sacrament”.  Sacraments
    that heal, benefit and improve the condition of life of their practitioners, without
    harm to themselves or the lives of others should be supported and encouraged,
    NOT infringed upon.

  18. Practices, based on religious tenets requiring use of the tree of life, cannot be anything but religious. It is biblically substantiated and secularly authenticated; one, in fact, complements the other.

    An examination of religious nexus entails more than a cursory mimicking of mainstream Christian precept repackaged. The Preamble to the Constitution reads “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law. . .” but where were those principles which recognized the supremacy of God in relation to the rule of law in Shore’s ruling?

    Judge Michel Shore qualified his reasons as an “either/or” axiom. He believes he must exclude all that does not meet the checklist recognized as having a nexus to religion;  in this instance, his checklist was lacking. He erred.

  19. Judge Michel Shore claims cannabis miracle … 35 joints out of 7 grams. That’s like feeding the multitudes with only 2 fish.

  20. The Judge was prejudiced from the start and interested in keeping up the political status quo

  21. Religion is abused refuge for behaviour that otherwise would run the risk of infringing on the rights of others.

  22. How I came to the Tree of Life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTYMjPscRRQ 

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