Arizona Court ‘Just Says No’ To Religious Pot Defense

A man cannot claim an unlimited religious freedom right to smoke marijuana, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled.


Danny Ray Hardesty argued that he has the right to use marijuana under the Constitution and a 1999 Arizona religious freedom law. Hardesty belongs to the Church of Cognizance, whose main religious sacrament is to allow individual families to choose their own modes of worship. Hardesty believed using marijuana provided him a connection to the divine mind and spiritual enlightenment.


Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch said public safety and health concerns give the government a compelling interest to restrict marijuana use. She added that this ruling does not mean all religious uses of drugs are unacceptable.


“Members of the Native American Church assert only the religious right to use peyote in limited sacramental rites,” she said, marking an “obvious difference” from Hardesty who wants to use the drug whenever he pleases, including while driving. (Arizona v. Hardesty)