Federal judge rules against church founders over marijuana use
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- A federal judge has ruled against the founders of an Arizona church that deifies marijuana and uses it as a sacrament.
U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera in Albuquerque, N.M., refused to dismiss charges against Dan and Mary Quaintance, saying they don't have a "sincere" religious belief.
Herrera said that evidence indicates the pair "adopted their `religious' belief in cannabis as a sacrament and deity in order to justify their lifestyle choice to use marijuana."
Herrera's order means the government's criminal case against the Quaintances will proceed in the new year.
The couple is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 16 on criminal charges of possessing more than 100 pounds of marijuana, as well as conspiracy charges.
"She doesn't fully understand our doctrine," Dan Quaintance said Tuesday of Herrera's Dec. 22 decision. "This is very upsetting to the members of our church. It was quite a holiday present."
The Quaintances face up to 40 years each in prison if they are convicted as charged. They expect to appeal the decision.
The couple was arrested with 172 pounds of marijuana on Feb. 22 in Lordsburg, N.M., just seven days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a small religious group based in Santa Fe that combines Christianity and American Indian practices could use hallucinogenic tea in its ceremonies.
The tea, called hoasca, contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, known for its hallucinogenic properties.
The pair say they founded their Church of Cognizance in Pima, Ariz. - about 90 miles northeast of Tucson - in 1991.
Dan Quaintance, 54, said the church has 40 to 50 members in Arizona. He and Mary Quaintance, 51, stepped down as leaders of the church following their arrests