US v. Meyers, 906 F. Supp. 1494 – Dist. Court, D. Wyoming 1995
Court denies Meyers religious defense for the sacramental use of cannabis. Meyers started the “Church of Marijuana” in 1973.
“Meyers founded the “Church of Marijuana” in 1973. The church allegedly has 800 members and one designated meeting spot. The church’s “religion” is to grow, possess, and distribute marijuana. The church’s “bible” is a ponderously titled book: Hemp & the Marijuana Conspiracy: The Emperor Wears No Clothes—The Authoritative Historical Record of the Cannabis Plant, Marijuana Prohibition, & How Hemp Can Still Save the World (“Hemp“). The church does not have a formal clergy, but does have approximately 20 “teachers.” Meyers did not explain what the teachers do. Although there are teachers, the church has no hierarchy or governing body. The church does not attempt to propagate its beliefs in any way, and does not assert that everyone should smoke marijuana. Nonetheless, part of the “religion” is to work towards the legalization of marijuana.”
The court ruled against Meyers religious defense, finding that his church did not deal with profound spiritual issues, lack of metaphysical beliefs, lack of an adequate moral or ethical system, and an overall lack of comprehensive beliefs.
The kicker was at the end of Meyers testimony, when he mentioned he and other church members were Christian. However, Meyers never asserted any use of the Bible, or that he thought it was his God given right to smoke marijuana (even though the Bible encourages cannabis use). The court seems to have seen the Meyers defense as a loose attempt at a fabrication of a religion to get away with illegal activity.

CONCLUSION

In finding that Meyers’ beliefs do not rise to the level of a statutorily protected religion, the Court has to a certain extent relied on factors that are the common denominators of every religion discussed in case law and most religions known to the Court. The risk of such an approach is that it might be too restrictive and not sensitive to new and developing forms of religions. The Court is aware of this risk, and the possibility that a new religion may be sui generis: so different from all known forms of extinct and existing religions that it fits none of the criteria the Court has listed above. This is a risk, however, inherent to the First Amendment and RFRA. The fact remains that both the amendment and the statute contain the word “religion.” If the First Amendment and RFRA are to have any meaning—including some beliefs and excluding others—the courts must shape and form the term “religion.” That is what the Court has attempted here, to shape and form.

In doing so, the Court appropriately has been cautious. The Court has given Meyers the benefit of the doubt by not scrutinizing the sincerity of his beliefs. The Court has done so even though it suspects Meyers is astute enough to know that by calling his beliefs “religious,” the First Amendment or RFRA might immunize him from prosecution. The Court notes that Meyers’ professed beliefs have an ad hoc quality that neatly justify his desire to smoke marijuana. The Court in fact commented on this when it ruled from the bench that Meyers’ beliefs do not constitute a “religion” under RFRA. Nonetheless, the Court does not rest its holding today on a finding that Meyers has concocted a sham religion in order to avoid prosecution. See, e.g., Kuch, 288 F.Supp. at 445 (“religion” that encourages use of marijuana and LSD adopted attributes of religion for tactical purpose of obtaining constitutional protection).

The Court’s holding today rests primarily on the fact that Meyers’ beliefs meet almost none of the criteria that are the hallmarks of religious belief, and on the fact that his beliefs are secular (i.e., medical, therapeutic, and social). The Court emphasizes that its holding is narrow, limited to Meyers’ beliefs as he presented them to this Court and as they now apparently exist. Though his undeveloped and nascent beliefs may contain within them the seed of a new religion, the seed has not yet germinated.

The Court therefore finds that Meyers’ beliefs do not constitute a religion for RFRA purposes, and ORDERS that his motion to raise a RFRA defense is denied. This order incorporates and supersedes the Court’s oral bench order on October 2, 1995.

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