Federal Court Rules in Favor of Cannabis Church by Melanie Marquis
In a federal court ruling on December 7th, the Healing Church of Rhode Island won its legal right to use and distribute cannabis as part of its religious ceremonies. Founded on the belief that cannabis is a healing agent and holy sacrament mentioned throughout the original Hebrew biblical texts as a plant known as “KNH BSM,” the Healing Church uses cannabis for anointing, healing, and offerings. Monday's ruling was only a partial victory for the church, however, as federal court Judge Mary Lisi upheld the group's rights to consume and share cannabis with its congregation, but stopped short of granting the church permission to perform their cannabis ceremonies on federal lands. The battle has largely centered around a well located at the Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence, Rhode Island, a place the Healing Church believes is religiously significant, and a place which also happens to be a part of the National Parks system. Referencing their belief in the location as the birthplace of religious freedom as well as a sacred site linked to the resurgence of the “holy KNH BSM”--a.k.a. “biblical cannabis”--the group applied for a permit and federal injunction in May of this year to be allowed to hold a cannabis ceremony at the memorial. While their permit to conduct the ceremony was approved, the injunction to burn cannabis offerings as part of the religious ritual was denied. The group held their services anyway and faced fines, confiscation of various religious artifacts, and alleged harassment of church members.
Undeterred, church leaders filed an affidavit with the federal courts asking for their Constitutional rights to freely practice their religion to be permanently secured and upheld, including their right to conduct religious ceremonies with cannabis at the Roger Williams National Memorial. While the church can now use cannabis at private locations of worship without fear of legal consequences, Judge Lisi ruled that the group could not conduct their cannabis rites at the Roger Williams National Memorial well until they are able to fully demonstrate to the court's satisfaction the particular importance of practicing these ceremonies at the specific site in question. The Healing Church is planning to file an appeal.