Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28.
Fighting for our rights
In 1979 the Supreme Court of Florida found: (1) the Ethiopian
Zion Coptic Church represents a religion within the first
amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and (2) the
"use of cannabis is an essential portion of the religious
Town v. State ex rel. Reno, 377 So.2d 648, 649 (Fla. 1979),
cert. denied, 449 U.S. 803 (1980).
"Further, the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church is not a new church
or religion but the record reflects it is centuries old and has
regularly used cannabis as its sacrament."
In 1980 several members of the church
were arrested unloading 20 tons of marijuana from a boat off
the coast of Maine. United States v. Rush,
738 F.2d 497 (1st Cir.
1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1120 (1985). The court found:
1) that the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church is a religion embracing
beliefs which are protected by the First Amendment; 2) that the
use of marijuana is an integral part of the religious practice
of the Church; and 3) that [all of the defendants] are members
of the Church and sincerely embrace the beliefs of the Church.
738 F.2d at 512.
In 1984 the Supreme Court of Iowa found: "Olsen is a member
and priest of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church. Testimony at his
trial revealed the bona fide nature of this religious organization
and the use of marijuana within it."
of Iowa v. Carl Eric Olsen, No. 171/69079 (Iowa 1984).
In 1989 Olsen filed a petition with the DEA for an exemption from the federal
drug law for the sacramental use of marijuana similar to the
existing exemption from the federal drug law for the sacramental
use of peyote. Olsen's petition was denied by the DEA.
Carl Eric Olsen v. Drug Enforcement Administration, 878 F.2d
1458 (D.C. Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 906 (1990).
The Court of Appeals found: "Olsen is a member and priest of the
Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church," 878 F.2d at 1459, and "the
Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church is a bona fide religion with
marijuana as its sacrament." 878 F.2d at 1460.
Olsen's case was cited on page 889 in Employment
Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which held that the
sacramental use of the Schedule I controlled substance peyote by
the Native American Church was not protected by
the U.S. Constitution
where a religion neutral and generally applicable state law made
peyote illegal for any purpose. No exemption existed for
the sacramental use of peyote or any other controlled substance
In June 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court held
that a state law banning a religious practice where other
individuals are allowed to do the same thing for a secular
purpose cannot withstand
constitutional scrutiny without a showing of compelling state
Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of
Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993).
In November 1993, Congress
unanimously overturned Employment Division v. Smith in 1993 by
enacting the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
In 1994, Congress enacted the American
Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments (AIRFAA), requiring all 50 states to allow the sacramental use of
the Schedule I controlled substance peyote by members of the Native American Church.
In 1996, states began enacting medical marijuana laws that allow personal cultivation and distribution without
profit if a doctor agrees. Since 1996, a total of 15 states have enacted such laws.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down RFRA as applied to
the states in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507