First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
print this   Print

Hawaii high court snuffs out man's religious arguments for pot use

By The Associated Press

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled against a Big Island man who claimed he had to smoke marijuana to practice his religion in what he called the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry.

The court decided in State of Hawaii v. Sunderland that Joseph Sunderland's freedom of religion didn't give him the right to smoke marijuana, but it didn't rule on whether Hawaii's strong privacy protections would have shielded him.

"The law prohibiting possession of marijuana ... applies to everyone," similar to traffic laws, said prosecuting attorney Janet Garcia. "Otherwise, you could have someone who says, 'My religious belief is that I shouldn't have to stop at a stop sign.'"

One justice, however, argued in a dissenting opinion that privacy rights guaranteed by the Hawaii Constitution should allow people to smoke marijuana in their homes.

Justice Steven Levinson wrote in a dissent to the court's split Sept. 21 decision that the framers of Hawaii's constitution intended to limit criminal punishment to cases where people are harmed.

"The issue is whether ... a fundamental right to privacy ... constrains the state from criminalizing mere possession of marijuana for personal use. My thesis is that it does," Levinson wrote in his dissent.

The case started when a Big Island police officer spotted a six-inch pipe on Sunderland's kitchen table in 2003 while the officer was looking for a missing child.

Sunderland told the officer the pipe was his, and he had a right to use it to exercise his religious beliefs. In fact, he said he had smoked marijuana from the pipe that morning.

He showed the officer a card indicating his membership in a religious organization called the "Cannabis Ministry," and he told the officer he had been practicing his religion since he was 16 years old.

Sunderland was charged with promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree for possession of the pipe and the marijuana residue inside.

"I believe that God put the holy herb onto this earth to help mankind to better understand him," Sunderland testified at trial.

He was found guilty and ordered to pay $175 in fines and fees.

His attorney, public defender Deborah Kim, said she would ask the Hawaii Supreme Court to reconsider the privacy issue.

"The court has ducked the question of whether the right to privacy prevents the police from enforcing marijuana laws when someone is using marijuana in their home for religious purposes," Kim said. "The question is still very much open."


Justices reject government's appeal on medical marijuana

At stake were doctors' free-speech rights under laws in nine states legalizing pot for patients whose doctors recommend it. 10.14.03

1st Circuit sides with pro-marijuana group in transit-ad dispute

Court finds Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority violated free speech by refusing to display Change the Climate's ads. 12.01.04

High court limits student speech in 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case
Schools may prohibit student expression that can be interpreted as advocating drug use, Chief Justice John Roberts writes. 06.25.07

Ariz. court: Man has no religious right to smoke pot
Danny Ray Hardesty had argued that he was entitled to use marijuana under religious-freedom protections of state, federal constitutions. 08.04.08

Ariz. high court rebuffs religious defense for pot use
Justices note Danny Ray Hardesty's mode of worship 'was to smoke and eat marijuana without limit as to time or place.' 09.10.09

Alaska court rejects religious defense in drug case
Appeals panel majority agrees with trial court judge, finding couple's religious beliefs about marijuana were insincere. 01.25.10

Religious liberty gets boost in hallucinogenic-tea case
By Tony Mauro Chief justice's maiden First Amendment opinion is clear victory for free-exercise clause. 02.22.06

Calif. man has no religious-liberty right to sell pot
By David L. Hudson Jr. State appeals court finds Craig X. Rubin 'was prosecuted for selling and possessing marijuana for sale, not its religious use.' 12.05.08

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

Last system update: Saturday, April 24, 2010 | 00:23:06
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
How to contribute
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

Religious liberty in public schools
First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links