High Court Rejects Religious Pot

For the second time in four years, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a marijuana conviction based on a "free exercise of religion** defense. Both appeals were on behalf of the 1,000-membeiChurch of Plenty, a self-sufficient communal farm and spiritual village near Summer town, Tennessee, as reported in "Law:* High Times, July 76,

Four members, of the community were arrested in 1971 for growing marijuana and were convicted and sentenced two years later. At that time, they made their first appeal to the Supreme CourL

After their release from prison, the four initiated a second petition to the court, raising the issue of cruel and unusual punishment as well as that of religious freedom. Both appeals were denied "for want of a substantial federal question" -that is, for failure to present strong evidence that the convictions had violated any federally guaranteed rights.

Although these decisions set legal precedent, it is impossible to foresee how they will be interpreted, since the justices rejected both petitions without accepting legal briefs or oral argument and without explaining their reasoning in a written opinion. They may preclude any use of the religious defense, or they may be held to apply only to the Church of Plenty. It is possible these rulings may even affect sacramental use of peyote by native Americans, which was protected by a 1964 decision of the California Supreme CourL

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