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Court rejects church's bid for marijuana-law exemption

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TORONTO -- A religious group that uses marijuana to get closer to God won't be sparking up with the blessings of the court.

The Church of the Universe, which uses the drug as a sacrament, lost its bid Monday to be exempt from Canada's pot laws.

It launched the constitutional challenge in defence of two members charged with drug trafficking.

"For religious people who find meaning and purpose through religion, there's no Plan B," lawyer George Filipowic, who represented one of the men, said outside court.

"Now you have two people who are going to go through the rest of their lives not able to find meaning and purpose without breaking the law."

Prosecutors had argued that allowing the church's application would effectively legalize marijuana, as others would claim a religious right as well.

Although Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman ruled against the church, she said the group is sincere in claiming they use marijuana to connect to God.

"The provisions in question constitute a reasonable limit on the applicants' charter rights," reads Herman's ruling.

However, Herman ultimately did not think it was possible to create a workable religious exemption.

"There is no feasible way to make an allowance for the religious use of cannabis in the circumstances of this case," she wrote.

"It is difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to identify the religious user and religious use because religious use is barely distinguishable from recreational use."

Peter Styrsky, who along with fellow church member Shahrooz Kharaghani was charged with trafficking marijuana in 2006, said he is considering an appeal.

"I think the judge said that we do have the right to use it. She just didn't know how to implement it for us," said Styrsky.

The Crown argued that the applicants' religion is a "sham" and a "joke," a parody of religion designed to legitimize illegal behaviour.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2011 A8

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