Religious Use

Some religious groups advocate the use of marijuana in support of their religious practices. They feel as if they should receive the same privileges as Native Americans who are allowed to use the drug peyote under an exemption from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Federal Drug Law.

The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church claims that they are a "bona fide religion" and is fighting to be recognized as such so that it can legally use marijuana which its members claim is central to their worship. This church has repeatedly petitioned the government for this right and has been repeatedly denied a sacramental drug exemption. They argue that there is no distinction between the use of peyote in Native American rituals and the use of marijuana in their religious rites. This issue has surfaced in many court cases, a few of which this paper will touch upon. *(Marijuana and the Bible)

Olsen v. Drug Enforcement Agency

Olsen, a member and priest of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church which has several thousand members in Jamaica but only between 100 and 200 members in the United States, petitioned for the right to use marijuana for religious use in 1989. *(Olsen v. DEA). He stated that the church's sacrament is marijuana, "Under church teachings marijuana is combined with tobacco and smoked continually all day, through church services, through everything we do." According to the state, Olsen and his colleagues have been convicted several times in federal and state courts for various offences related to marijuana. These have included importation of twenty tons of marijuana. These convictions were based on the Controlled Substances Act which lists marijuana as a "Schedule I" controlled substance with a "high potential for abuse." Olsen's argument that he should be allowed to use the drug for religious purposes is based on his interpretation of the first amendment's guarantee of the right to have free exercise of religion and the equal-protection principle that his religion should be allowed equal access to religious drugs as the Native American religion. This issue was argued in a previous court case, Unites States v. Rush.

Judge Norma Holloway Johnson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied Olsen's petition. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, circuit judge of the Court of Appeals upheld the earlier courts ruling citing that:

The free exercise clause of the first amendment did not entitle church members to use marijuana and the exemption for peyote to the Native American Church did not violate establishment clauses. There was a disagreement from Circuit Judge Buckley who stated that: although the free exercise clause allowed for the freedom to believe and the freedom to act, the freedom to believe cannot be questioned, but the freedom to act can be interpreted in different ways. He dissented to the ruling and filed an opinion. He felt that before a law could be upheld to constrain religious conduct a few things should first be considered:

Whether the law interferes with sincere religious belief
Whether the law is essential to accomplish an overriding government objective, and
Whether the accommodating religious conduct would unduly interfere with the fulfillment of governmental interests.

Marijuana: History, Effects and Controversies

History in the United States

Hemp Production

Physical and Psychological Effects

Health Use


The Case for Maintaining Prohibition v. The Case for Legalization