Religious Freedom Doesn’t Trump Canada’s Marijuana Laws

The Church of the Universe in Toronto, Ontario maintains that Canada’s marijuana laws violate their right to religious freedom. The church, which refers to marijuana as the “Tree of Life….from the Garden of Eden, a gift from God,” encourages its members to “surround themselves with the holy Tree of Life, not just inhaling it, but wearing it, growing it, writing on it, eating it, etc.”

However, the CBC reports that the reverends Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani ran into trouble in 2006 when they allegedly sold small amounts of marijuana to undercover police officers who were posing as members of the church.

The two reverends submitted a legal challenge arguing that the church uses the drug as a sacrament and that the law they were charged under infringes on their religious rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their claim was thrown out by the judge on Monday after Justice Thea Herman of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that “distributing marijuana is not an activity that deserves protection as a religious freedom.” She ruled that giving a legal exemption for the use of marijuana for religious purposes is not feasible due to “difficulties in identifying both the religious user and the religious use of cannabis.”

However, the reverends do not see her decision entirely as a defeat. As reported by the Toronto Star, despite defeating the motion, the judge also stated that “the laws against pot possession – though not trafficking – limited the two men’s freedom of religion.” According to the CBC, Reverend Styrsky said: “I think the judge said that we do have the right to use it. She just didn’t know how to implement it for us.”

This is not the first debate Canada has had on the applicability of its laws and other rules vis-a-vis the protection of religious freedom under the charter. The other high profile case recently has been the wearing of a kirpan by Sikh boys and men. While Sikh boys are now allowed to wear kirpans to school (with some restrictions), despite a ban on knives in schools, a group of Sikh men were recently barred access to the Quebec legislature because they were carrying kirpans.

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Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.

Photo credit: r0bz on flickr

55 comments

Lin Moy
Lin M5 years ago

Why would you use weed in church? It is where you go to worship God, not catch a high and why are they selling it too? If it is for religous purpose why isn't it free? Do you pay for song books to be able to sing? Keep weed out of the church.

Scott H.
Scott H.5 years ago

Is providing alcoholic wine to underage Catholics illegal as well?

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

I didn't vote. Marijuana should be legal. The Church of the Universe is a con job, but a clever way to get weed.

Shohreh M.
Shohreh M.5 years ago

so many stupid things might be practised by religions! should we allow them here? like those morons who are the fans of polygamy?! or those fools who have no brains and think they are doing good to imprison women or treat them like animals as they believe their stupid religion had wanted it from them? when something is illegal, all must respect that...they are not happy? please go somewhere else!

Ant m.
Ant m.5 years ago

Its just a weed that flowers in your mind .....

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M.5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this post. I agree with Tom Edgar, that "the law should favour none and serve all equally. No differentiations."

Sharon Balloch
Sharon Balloch5 years ago

Their big mistake was selling to a nark... in church.. I mean does the priest sell his holy wine?

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

greg rzesniowiecki

@ Tom Y. from your post..

Euphoria, like happiness, is a byproduct in true spirituality and not the objective -- it's like falling in love with love, not the other person. True spirituality is the relational connection between one's self and God.

It's funny but I thought that the God you might be believing in was the God of Love. Also the Sun God... and it's funny how "son" and "sun" are phonetically the same in English...

"Love love for love's sake".. could translate to "love god for god's sake"..

the next question is define god... open your mind to the potential that just as we are all children of the stars we also are aspects of the divine...

but so is all the other stardust!

is it made of love also? so must be the marijuana!

Tony Co
Tony C.5 years ago

I agree with Tom Edgar. No religion should trump the law. If people want to practice their religion. They should practice it in their own places of worship.