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Europe: Rastafarians Can Smoke Marijuana, Italian Court Rules

The Italian Court of Cassation, the highest criminal court in the land, has thrown out the drug trafficking conviction of a Rastafarian, saying the amount of marijuana he possessed was consistent with the heavy use that comes with his religious beliefs.

Under Italian law, using or possessing small amounts of marijuana is not a crime, but possessing larger amounts can bring a drug trafficking charge. That's what happened to an Italian Rastafarian from Perugia, who was sentenced to 16 months in jail and a $5,000 fine for possession of about 3 1/2 ounces of marijuana.

But the Court of Cassation said the court of first appeal had failed to consider that the man smoked because of his religious beliefs. According to the high court, Rastafarianism allows for smoking up to 10 grams a day. Rastas smoke the herb "with the memory and in the belief that the sacred plant grew on the tomb of King Solomon," the court said. They use it "not only as a medical but also as a meditative herb. And, as such [it is] a possible bearer of the psychophysical state of contemplation and prayer."

The conservative Italian government is not happy. The ruling "shatters the laws which forbid and proscribe penal sanctions for" the use of illegal drugs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said in remarks reported by London's The Independent.

"Today we learn a Rasta is free to go around with drugs. If somebody belonged to a religion which permitted them to eat their children, would they give them the go-ahead, too?" worried right-wing Senator Maurizio Gasparri.

Radical Party Senator Marco Perduca was more concerned about practitioners of Italy's most popular religion. He suggested to ItaliaNews that Italian Catholic pot smokers should find their own saint to worship.

The reaction was also more upbeat at Rototom Sunsplash, Europe's largest reggae festival, which happened to be occurring as the ruling came down. "Finally the principle of religious pluralism is beginning to make headway," Filippo Giunta, president of the festival, said. "This judgment... underlines again the difference between this substance and so-called 'hard' drugs, alcohol included."

The ruling recognizing the spiritual use of marijuana is the first in Europe. Advocates of religious marijuana use have made little headway in the courts in the US, despite devoted efforts, although the Guam Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that a Guamanian Rasta charged with importing marijuana could not be prosecuted because his use was religious.

At the Shrine to San Malverde, Mexico's Narco-Saint

You don't find Culiacan, the capital city of Sinaloa, in the tourist guide books for some reason. But it is a thriving city of more than a million, and it is the home of one of the stranger manifestations of the drug wars of the last few decades: The shrine to San Malverde, (unofficial) patron saint of bandits, and now, drug traffickers. shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacan, Sinaloa -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from "the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona" (more pictures below the fold) I visited the shine in the heat of the afternoon sun today. During the half hour or so I was there, a few dozen people came to light candles to the santo, pay their respects, or otherwise recognize his alleged powers of protection. A handful of musicians for hire hung around, waiting for someone to pay them to play a tune to the saint, and about a dozen vendors sold San Malverde memorabilia--candles, plaques, good luck amulets, prayer cards, and the like. (Hmmm, do I feel an idea for a premium gestating?) The vendors told me that dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people arrive each day, some to pray, some to light candles, some to make donations, some to put up plaques:
"Thanks to God and San Malverde for favors received." "Thanks to God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for helping us move forward." "O miraculous Malverde, O, Malverde my Lord, Concede me this favor, And fill my heart with happiness."
Given the way Mexico's drug war is raging these days, I would imagine the good saint is getting a real work-out. Mexicans are so inured to the daily drug war death toll that the newspapers generally relegate it to box score-type accounts, but when you or a friend or a family member is working in the trade, you probably figure some supernatural help can't hurt. I'll spend the next few days here in Culiacan. I had wanted to go up to the drug-producing areas in the mountains nearby, but so far, everyone is demurring--it's too dangerous, they say. Nonetheless, I'll keep working that and see what happens. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll be attending and "International Forum on Illicit Drugs: The Merida Initiative and the Experiences of Decriminalization," organized by the brave journalists of the Culiacan news weekly Riodoce. While the other Sinaloa papers have largely gone silent in the face of threats and killings, Riodoce keeps plugging away. I'll be meeting with some of the Riodoce staff tomorrow, right after I meet with Mercedes Murillo, head of the local human rights organization the Sinaloa Civic Front, which just a couple of days ago filed what could be a historic court motion to have military personnel accused of crimes against civilians tried in civilian--not military--court. There have been several nasty incidents of soldiers killing civilians here since Calderon sent in the troops, and under current Mexican law, they seem to get away with it. Stay tuned. It should be an interesting week. And then it's back to Mexico City to visit Saint Death and attend the Global Marijuana Day demonstration at the Alameda. (more pictures below the fold) shrine of San Malverde, more plaques Musicians for hire -- they play for people making pilgrimages or offerings. the cathedral in Culiacan
Culiacan, SIN

Latin America: Mexican Catholic Church in Narco-Dollar Embarrassment

Several Mexican bishops this week strongly denied that the Catholic Church accepts donations from drug dealers, backtracking furiously away from remarks by the president of the Mexican bishops' conference, who said drug traffickers have been "very generous" to the church.

Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Texcoco, president of the Mexican bishops' conference, made headlines last weekend when he acknowledged that the drug trafficking organizations responsible for murder and mayhem across the country provided money for churches and other public works in some of the country's poorest villages.

"They are generous and often they provide money for building a church or chapel," Bishop Aguiar said after the bishops' conference meeting April 1-4. "In the communities where they work... they will install electricity, establish communication links, highways (and) roads," he said in comments that received nationwide media attention. Aguiar said he was not condoning drug trafficking, just "saying how it is."

The drug dealers come to church officials seeking spiritual solace, Aguiar said. "There has been a rapprochement with them as it's known that discretion is going to be kept," Bishop Aguiar said. "What they want is to encounter peace in their consciences. What they're going to get from us is a sharp response: Change your life."

This week, Mexican bishops lined up to deny they took drug money. Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City said the church condemns drug trafficking as a social evil and that it never accepts drug money. "The money that comes from narcotics trafficking is ill-gotten and therefore can't be cleaned through charity projects," he said in a Sunday statement released by the archdiocese.

Auxiliary Bishop Marcelino Hernández Rodríguez of Mexico City and Archbishop José Martín Rábago of León, former head of the Mexican bishop's conference, also joined the chorus. Hernández said that narco-donations to the church were unacceptable, while Martín said that while the church preaches salvation, it does not condone drug trafficking and would not accept "dirty money."

Europe: Vatican Updates List of Deadly Sins, Adds Drug-Taking, Drug-Selling

In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano this week, the head of the Holy See's Apostolic Penitentiary announced that the Church had updated its list of mortal sins, and that drug-taking and -selling had made the list. The sale and use of drugs is sinful because they "weaken the mind and obscure intelligence," said Bishop Gianfranco Girotti.

Drugs aren't the only thing on the Vatican's mind. Along with drug-taking and -selling, the other new-fangled deadly sins are: polluting the environment; human experimentation, including cloning; excessive wealth; creating or deepening social injustice; abortion; and pedophilia.

The original seven deadly sins -- lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride -- were focused on individual behavior, but the modern version is aimed at the social context, said Girotti. "While sin used to concern mostly the individual, today it has mainly a social resonance, due to the phenomenon of globalization," he said.

Within the seven sins, drugs was not in the top tier. The greatest danger for modern man was the seductive allure of bioethics, according to Girotti. "You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbor's wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos," he said.

Marijuana: Hawaii Supreme Court Rejects Religious Use Defense

In a split decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled against a Big Island man who claimed he smoked marijuana as part of his religion and thus should not be prosecuted. In its September 21 decision in State v. Sunderland, the Court rejected Joseph Sunderland's argument that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected him from prosecution, but failed to address his contention that privacy provisions of the Hawaii state constitution also protected him from arrest for using marijuana in his home.
Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
The case started in 2003, when a Big Island police officer searching for a missing child spotted a marijuana pipe on Sunderland's kitchen table. Sunderland admitted the pipe was his, said he had used it to smoke marijuana that morning, and told the officer he had a right to use it for religious purposes. Sunderland presented a membership card in The Cannabis Ministry, a religious organization headed by Roger Christie that uses marijuana as a sacrament.

Sunderland was subsequently charged with promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree, the Hawaiian version of a paraphernalia law violation. Before trial, Sunderland filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that his constitutional right to the free exercise of religion precluded his prosecution for using marijuana.

"I believe that God put the holy herb onto this earth to help mankind to better understand Him," Sunderland told the trial court.

The trial court disagreed with Sunderland's legal argument, and Sunderland was found guilty and fined $175. He appealed, and now the state Supreme Court has shot him down.

Citing precedent to reject the applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the states, the court held that under controlling law, the state has a legitimate "compelling interest" in regulating marijuana use, and thus, "the free exercise clause of the First Amendment is not a viable defense."

But there may still be a glimmer of hope for both Sunderland and the rest of Hawaii's pot smokers. The Supreme Court did not address Sunderland's contention that Hawaii privacy protections should immunize his in-house marijuana use, arguing that he had failed to present it in a timely fashion. But in his dissenting opinion Justice Levinson suggested that such a right indeed exists.

The framers of Hawaii's constitution meant to limit criminal sanctions to cases where people are harmed, Levinson argued. "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.

Sunderland's attorney, public defender Deborah Kim, said she planned to ask the high court to address 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."

Chronicle Book Review: "Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom," by Andy Letcher (2007, Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers, 360 pp, $25.95 HB.)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, Drug War Chronicle

British historian (and psychedelic folk band member) Andy Letcher has produced a charmingly written, carefully researched, revisionist history of psychedelic mushrooms. While his findings may disappoint the most severely committed mushroom spiritualists, the journey is an eye-opening pleasure for anyone with an interest in matters psychedelic.
In the past half-century, thanks to intrepid psychedelic adventurers like banker-turned-mystic Gordon Wasson, anthropologist-turned-shaman Michael Harner, and myco-promoter Terence McKenna, a wonderful and powerful mythology has grown up around the fantastic fungus.

It goes something like this: Through sacred use of the magic mushrooms, shamans from Siberia to Mexico were able to see visions, heal the sick, and talk with the gods. Santa Claus himself, with his gnomic appearance and red and white attire, is a symbolic representation of the amanita muscaria, or fly-agaric, mushroom. The mushroom was the mystery in ancient Greece's Eleusinian Mysteries, it was the soma of the Riga Veda, it -- not bread and wine -- is what Jesus ate at the last supper. The Druids used it at Stonehenge. The magic mushroom is the basis of religion, and evidence of its hidden cult can be found on everything from medieval Catholic church doors to ancient rock-paintings in the African desert.

There's more: Mushrooms are actually a "machine consciousness" representing a different dimension… or something like that. I get a little fuzzy on the finer arcana of myco-mythology.

Letcher, historian that he is, takes these claims on one by one, examines them, and, sadly for the myco-cultists, finds them lacking in historical substance. "There is not a single instance of a magic mushroom being preserved in the archaeological record anywhere," he writes. "We really do not know, one way or the other, whether the ancients worshipped the holy spores of God. If they did, they left not a single piece of evidence of having done so."

There is little evidence of sacramental, shamanic mushroom yet except for isolated tribes in Siberia, and even there, the evidence suggests that mushrooms were as much to be partied with as to be worshiped. Also in Mexico, where Gordon Wasson famously met Mazatec curandera (shaman) Maria Sabina and ate the "flesh of the gods" in 1956. As Letcher notes, Maria Sabina was hardly the primitive priestess of myth, but mythic she became, especially after Wasson ushered in the beginning of the psychedelic age with his publication of an article in Life magazine about his experiences.

That was certainly a seismic shift in Western attitudes toward the magic mushroom. Up until the mid-20th Century, magic mushroom intoxication was rare, almost always accidental, and almost always considered as poisoning. Man, how things have changed! While interest in psychedelic mushrooms, particularly the psilocybes, took a back seat to LSD in the tripped-out 1960s, the relatively milder mushrooms have remained popular among the psychedelic set ever since.

Although they are illegal in the US, aficionados here can legally purchase "idiot proof" spore kits (which contain no psilocybin, the prescribed ingredient), and the shrooms themselves remain fuzzily legal in some European countries. England banned the sale of and possession of mushrooms in 2005, as did Japan, but there is little evidence Bobbies are out chasing down mushroom-pickers.

Still, while it appears the magic mushroom is here to stay, it is decidedly an acquired taste. Most people who try them try them only once or twice; only a relative handful become serious shroom-heads. And while Letcher tries resolutely to stay clear of politics, the relative rareness of mushroom use and the lack of demonstrated harms leads him to criticize the British prohibition as "heavy-handed, motivated more by political concerns than any sensible evaluation of the evidence." Indeed, Letcher writes, "prohibition may prove to be a retrograde step in terms of harm reduction," as hapless users pick the wrong mushrooms, are sold substitutes, or are afflicted by a criminal justice system more harmful than the shrooms themselves.

Shrooms is a cultural history worth reading, rigorous in its analysis, incisive in its reporting, and enticing with its descriptions of bemushroomed reality. It makes me want to go out and order one of those "idiot proof" kits myself.

Press Release: Home of the Free???

For Immediate Release: May 16, 2007 Contact: E.C. Danuel D. Quaintance, Church of Cognizance at (928) 485-2952 I ask for nothing more than open minds to examine the possible consequences of putting scriptural interpretations of a recognized religion to a test, in order to decide if that religion qualifies for First Amendment protections. It is not uncommon amongst followers of various faiths to interpret their common faith in different ways. The Supreme Court stated, in Thomas v. Review Board, “Intrafaith differences of that kind are not uncommon among followers of a particular creed, and the judicial process is singularly ill equipped to resolve such differences in relation to the Religion Clauses,” then went on to instruct that “Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretations.” This human freedom to interpret the scriptures as we see them was something most Americans take for granted. This freedom is not something small churches can take for granted any longer. The attack against a small church, and religious interpretations in general, has begun in a U.S. District court in New Mexico. New Mexico follows prior decisions of the 10th Cir. Courts. The 10th Circuit upheld the use of a test in the District of New Mexico, which originated in deciding if the beliefs of a newly established, one-man, religion qualified to receive First Amendment protection. The test has become known as the Meyers Matrix. The use of the Meyers Matrix test was never challenged in the Supreme Court of the United States. Now the Meyers test has been inappropriately used to test if a religious group of a recognized religion deserves protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA. Testimony of cultural anthropologist Dr. Deborah Pruitt, PhD, who specializes in many non-mainstream religions, revealed the Meyers test is highly skewed against a great number of recognized religions. Government, in an attempt to avoid the requirement of showing “a compelling government interest” for burdening the free “Exercise of Religion”, has chosen a new and innovative path of getting around that requirement. First government attorneys declared the religion was “a Bastardized form” of the religion. Then went on to declare, what synonymously amounts to claiming because the leader of a Christian church was no Christ, the church did not deserve the constitutional protection a religion enjoys. This wasn’t enough insult to freedom of religion, government turned to a Priest of another sect of the religion, as an expert witness, in an attempt to prove another religious group incorrectly interprets the teachings, practices, and modes of worship of their common faith. This move showed a total disrespect for prior decisions of the Supreme Court, like the one quoted above. In the end it didn’t matter that government attempted to test one sect against another. Government’s hoped results from such an attempt backfired. The testimony of government’s expert witness from the common faith ended up showing the small group might actually more correctly interpret many elements of their common faith. With the prior method failing it was up to the, recently appointed, Federal Judge to put the hammer down. U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera had her own methods of depriving religious freedoms. She decided to count the elements that were not met in the Meyers test, and then call that which was met “dicta,” which allowed her to not count that part of the test when arriving at a deciding average of whether or not the beliefs qualify for religious protections. By that move, and a determination that the “mantra” considered the “moral and ethical compass,” of this recognized religion, provided no moral or ethical guidance, the judge ruled that not enough factors of the Meyer Matrix were met to qualify for religious protections under RFRA or the First Amendment. End of story, the beginning of the end of a once highly honored protection amongst Americans. The only hope now is through contacting your representatives and asking them to investigate and put a halt to this disregard for cherished human rights. For more information visit
United States

God Declares War On Drugs

…Or so says the Pope.

Drug traffickers will face divine justice for the scourge of illegal narcotics across Latin America, Pope Benedict XVI warned Saturday, telling dealers that "human dignity cannot be trampled upon in this way." [CBSNews]

Ok. But now that you're finally getting involved, God, I hope you'll look at both sides of the issue. It's rather complicated, but if anyone can sort it out, it's You.

What we're finding is that mandatory minimums, divine justice, etc. don’t seem to have the intended deterrent effect. And these drug warrior types are having a hard time loving thy neighbor.

Oh, and could you talk to Mark Souder? He's a big fan of your work, but he seems to have trouble grasping some of the nuances.

United States

Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative Update April 26, 2007

In this update: 1. IDPI helps attain a sentencing reform victory in Maryland 2. IDPI mobilizes 50 clergy to support a medical marijuana bill in Illinois and generates substantial media coverage 3. Troy Dayton moves on, Tyler Smith is promoted to associate director 4. You can raise $$$ for IDPI while you search the Internet! 5. Stay tuned for a forthcoming action alert about important federal legislation --------------------- IDPI helps attain a sentencing reform victory in Maryland IDPI played a crucial role in the recent passage of HB 992, establishing parole eligibility for second-time non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences in Maryland. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws force judges to hand out harsh sentences for drug offenders, with no option to issue a lesser sentence based on the unique circumstances of the case, such as the defendant's role in the offense, likelihood of committing a future offense, or the role of drug addiction. Offenders sentenced to a mandatory minimum are not eligible for parole. These laws have resulted in large numbers of low-level, non-violent drug offenders clogging up the court and prison systems, racially disproportionate incarceration rates, and no appreciable decline in drug problems. (See for more information.) With nearly 5,000 drug offenders in prison in Maryland, the new law will result in an unanticipated opportunity for early release for some. Working with the Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration, an alliance of organizations concerned with criminal justice reform in Maryland, IDPI Associate Director Tyler Smith recruited and prepared the pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. church of Fort Washington (with 15,000 members), the Rev. Dr. Grainger Browning, to testify before both the Legislative Black Caucus and the judiciary committee of the House of Delegates. IDPI also reached out to dozens of clergy and hundreds of our members in Maryland to persuade them to contact key legislators. We even got the priest of a Catholic church that the House Judiciary Committee chair sometimes attends to urge support of the bill! In the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, former prosecutor Reverend Jonathan Newton, also of Ebenezer A.M.E., testified in favor of the bill on behalf of Rev. Dr. Browning and IDPI. Under the old state law, people convicted of a second offense of selling drugs faced a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. The new law, expected to be signed by the governor in May, will allow all but those also convicted of violent crimes to seek parole. The coalition has been working for a few years to repeal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws in Maryland. While the new law still doesn't go far enough, it is a compromise that will help many drug offenders. We are delighted to have played an important role in getting this bill passed. Click here to see the testimony delivered to the House of Delegates. -------------------------- 2. IDPI mobilizes 50 clergy to support a medical marijuana bill in Illinois and generates substantial media coverage IDPI did an outreach mailing to clergy in Illinois, signed by Presbyterian minister Bob Hillenbrand, asking them to sign the resolution: "Licensed medical practitioners should not be punished for recommending the medical use of marijuana to seriously ill patients, and seriously ill patients should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if the patients' medical practitioners have told them that such use is likely to be beneficial." IDPI activist and Illinois resident Allen Penticoff was instrumental in recruiting Pastor Hillenbrand to this effort. He showed tremendous resourcefulness and initiative responding to our call for help finding a member of the clergy willing to be the original signer of our letter. Fifty religious leaders from eleven denominations responded to the mailing, urging the Illinois senate to pass SB 650 to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana. We subsequently sent a letter featuring the statement signed by fifty Illinois religious leaders to all members of the state senate. Many of the clergypersons followed up by making phone calls to their senators. Then we distributed a news release and called dozens of reporters. This coalition of clergy urging compassion for medical marijuana patients has made big news in Illinois and even resulted in an article in the Los Angeles Times! Click on the link below to see the stories on our website (and the list of clergy). So far, five newspaper articles have been published and one radio segment aired (on Chicago NPR) that feature or mentioned religious support for medical marijuana. The senate is expected to vote on the bill within the next few weeks. -------------------------- 3. Troy Dayton moves on to other work, Tyler Smith is promoted to associate director Troy Dayton, IDPI's associate director since November of 2003, has moved on to work as senior development officer for two allied drug policy reform groups. Troy did a magnificent job at IDPI mobilizing faith leaders to support drug policy reform and raising money for our efforts. In fact, he did such a good job at the latter that the other two organizations made him offers he couldn't refuse. We will miss Troy's presence, but we're delighted for our allies that now employ Troy. Tyler was hired as IDPI's field director in July of 2006, and now he’s the new associate director. He looks forward to strengthening and expanding IDPI's work in the religious community. --------------------------- 4. You can raise $$$ for IDPI while you search the Internet! We depend on and appreciate the financial support that you give us. Here's a way to contribute to our work that won't cost you anything! GoodSearch is a search engine which donates 50-percent of its revenue to the charities and schools designated by its users. It's a simple and compelling concept. You use GoodSearch exactly as you would any other search engine. Because it's powered by Yahoo!, you get proven search results. The money GoodSearch donates to your cause comes from its advertisers -- the users and the organizations do not spend a dime! The Goodsearch website has two bars on it, the top one is your search bar, the bottom one is where you just type in "IDPI" which tells Goodsearch which charity gets the donation. Every time you do, we get a few pennies. With thousands of our supporters and friends participating, this will add up! We urge all of our supporters to use Goodsearch as their primary web-searching site. And, of course, please remember that we need regular donations, too! Please visit and click on the "donate" button to make a contribution. --------------------------- 5. We know that you're busy and probably don't have time to read all of our messages, but if you happen to be reading this one, we urge you to be sure to read the action alert that we'll be sending in a few days. We've been calling on state and local supporters and friends in recent months to help on important projects, but now there are a couple of federal developments on which we need everyone's help. Stay tuned! All the best, Charles Thomas, executive director Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative P.O. Box 6299 Washington, DC 20015 301-270-4473
United States

Backers stress compassion of medical marijuana

United States
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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