Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Religious Freedom Does Not Protect Marijuana Sales—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who sold marijuana from a Hollywood facility he called a church did not have a constitutional right to sell or possess the drug, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Six affirmed Craig X. Rubin’s conviction on charges of selling marijuana and possessing marijuana for sale. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel placed Rubin on probation on condition that he serve 90 days in jail.
Rubin, dubbed “The Hollywood Wizard of Weed” by the magazine High Times, was arrested in November 2006 after a police raid on Temple 420 in Hollywood. Officers seized nine pounds of marijuana along with scales, surveillance cameras, pay-owe sheets, bongs, pipes, Ziploc baggies, and packaging materials.
The narcotics officer who led the raid testified that she had visited the facility twice in the previous three months in an undercover capacity. She testified that Rubin introduced himself as the owner of Temple 420, and said that it was a church in which members could buy marijuana.
Vending Machines Planned
Rubin said he planned to sell marijuana from vending machines. The front lobby had a cash register, a display of water bongs and pipes, and drug paraphernalia and related clothing, the officer said, adding that on her second visit, she filled out a membership application and purchased 3.5 grams of marijuana for $60.
Rubin testified that he was an ordained Universal Life Church minister who started Temple 420 as an online ministry. He said he was a pro-marijuana activist and that he was trying to bring religion to the “pot movement because there is a million people trying to legalize marijuana and a lot of them don’t have God in their lives.”
The defense sought to present evidence concerning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The statute prohibits enforcement of laws that burden the practice of religion in the absence of a compelling governmental interest, but a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision held the act unconstitutional to the extent it bars enforcement of state laws.
Strobel barred the defense from referring to RFRA, saying “it does not provide a defense in this case” and that the minimal probative value that the evidence might have was outweighed by the possibility of misleading the jury.
Trial Court Affirmed
Justice Kenneth Yegan, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in excluding the RFRA evidence, as well as evidence referring to the First Amendment. The justice noted that the temple’s standard membership agreement, which allegedly referred to RFRA, was not introduced in evidence, and that the defense was allowed to question the lead officer about the content, although the judge said it would be too confusing to allow questioning of the officer about whether she researched the information on the form.
The justice went on to reject the claim that the state Constitution protects the right to sell marijuana for religious purposes.
Yegan distinguished cases that permit the use of controlled substances as part of sacramental rites. None of those cases, which dealt with the use of hallucinogenic drugs during religious ceremonies, involve sale of drugs, the justice said.
“Appellant presented no evidence that he was unable to practice his religious beliefs without selling marijuana or that he had to use marijuana to perform religious services,” the jurist wrote. Unlike the defendants in the cited cases, he added, “the ceremonial use of marijuana is not the sine qua non of appellant’s faith and religious beliefs.”
“It is unnecessary to pass on whether appellant sincerely believes that he may use religion as an umbrella to shield him from the salutary rules protecting society from drug peddlers. It is sufficient to observe that appellant’s theory is at variance with not only constitutional law, it is at variance with common sense.”
Attorneys on appeal were Christine C. Shaver, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Ana R. Duarte for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Rubin, 08 S.O.S. 6496.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company