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Hemp Activist Challenges Drug Laws in British Columbia, Pastor Offers Biblical Evidence


May-June 1997

Laws in British Columbia (B.C.) prohibiting possession and cultivation of marijuana, as well as the possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, are being challenged by Ian Hunter, the head of the B.C. Hemp Council. Hunter says sections of the Canadian Food and Drug Act and the Narcotic Control Act violate several sections of the B.C. Charter of Rights, including those protecting religious freedom (Kim Westad, "Activist Relies on Bible to Support Use of Marijuana Theories," Victoria Times Colonist (British Columbia, Canada), April 10, 1997, p. A5).

Hunter, who owns a hemp shop called "The Sacred Herb," represented himself with a 97-page legal argument in a hearing before Justice Montague Drake in B.C. Supreme Court in April. Chris Bennett testified at the hearing that ingesting marijuana is an integral part of the religious experience in the Church of the Universe, in which he and Hunter are ministers. He said church members believe that marijuana is the biblical tree of life, and that its leaves can be used to heal all nations. Bennett cited biblical passages to support his argument that marijuana has been used as a religious sacrament since the time of Christ. Moses used cannabis oil as a way to divine revelation, Bennett said. "This was not considered using a drug or dope. This was a very religious act."

Bennett cited the use of cannabis by other religions, including sects of Hindus and Rastafarians. The "intent is spiritual, to provide religious experience. A person's experience relies on their belief system," he said. He said members of the Church of the Universe say a prayer while they share marijuana cigarettes, and that they smoke marijuana to awaken the brain for wider perceptions of reality.

On April 14, Judge Drake rejected Hunter's constitutional challenge (Victoria Registry, Action No. 8807, Her Majesty The Queen v. Ian Fergus Hunter). Drake said Hunter's arguments were largely political, not legal, matters. "It was an elaborate plea of confession and avoidance," he said of Hunter's five-day argument, much of which he called "massive irrelevant matter." The judge said Hunter's marijuana use was an unlawful act. "A religion condoning the commission of an indictable offence is no religion at all, as far as the Charter of Rights is concerned," said Drake. The Judge also noted that it is not mandatory for Church of the Universe members to smoke marijuana. Hunter goes to trial before a jury September 8 on marijuana possession charges (Kim Westad, "Marijuana Challenge Up In Smoke," Victoria Times Colonist (British Columbia, Canada), April 15, 1997, p. A3).