A federal judge ruled December 22 that the founders of an Arizona church that uses marijuana as a sacrament, and worships it as a deity, must stand trial on marijuana trafficking charges despite their claim that they are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That means Dan and Mary Quaintance, founders of the Church of Cognizance, face a January 16 trial on charges related to a 172-pound marijuana seizure in New Mexico. They face up to 40 years in prison each.
Ten months ago, in a case pitting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act against the Controlled Substances Act, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a New Mexico church to use a controlled substance as a sacrament. The Quaintances cited that case in seeking to have their charges thrown out. But US District Judge Judith Herrera in Albuquerque refused to dismiss the charges against the couple, saying their religious beliefs were not "sincere" and they had "adopted their religious belief in cannabis as a sacrament and deity in order to justify their lifestyle choice to use marijuana."
"She doesn't fully understand our doctrine," Dan Quaintance told the Associated Press after the ruling. "This is very upsetting to members of our church. It was quite a holiday present. Normally on Christmas we would have shared the herb with our friends and church members," Quaintance said. "Instead we had presents. We were a little empty... What's happening to us is a clear violation of the US Constitution. It's clear we are sincere."
The Church of Cognizance was founded in 1991 and filed a statement of "religious sentiment" with local authorities in 1994. According to the Quaintances, the church has 40 or 50 members in Arizona and an unknown number across the country. The church's motto is: "With good thoughts, good words and good deeds, we honor marijuana; as the teacher, the provider, the protector."
The couple remains free on bond at their home near Pima, Arizona, while awaiting trial. They have stepped down as leaders of the church.