We’ve written lots just lately concerning the regulation in regards to the non secular use of psychedelics (see here and here). That is an extremely broad space of the regulation that’s nonetheless growing. Our focus has usually been on the federal legal guidelines and selections affecting non secular use of psychedelics, although at the moment we flip our consideration to an vital new state choice.
On December 22, 2020, the New Hampshire Supreme Courtroom decided a case that may be very vital for the non secular use of psychedelics (the opinion is here). In that case, an individual had been convicted of possession of psilocybin and appealed his conviction all the best way to the state supreme court docket on the grounds that the trial court docket ought to have dismissed the case given his non secular use of the substance. The court docket famous that the defendant was a member of the Oratory of Mystical Sacraments department of the Oklevueha Native American Church, which church had particular guidelines relating to the taking of psilocybin to forestall issues like public intoxication or driving whereas intoxicated.
Notably, the defendant solely pursued state regulation challenges to his conviction. New Hampshire’s state structure (which the court docket acknowledged has broader protections than the federal Structure) accommodates a proper to follow non secular beliefs as long as they don’t “disturb the peace”, and the choice turned on whether or not the defendant’s follow disturbed the peace.
The court docket started by noting that the defendant had the correct to carry no matter non secular beliefs he selected, and that it was not the court docket’s job to determine whether or not they’re theologically true. As an apart, this an attention-grabbing place and one which I argued elsewhere that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ought to keep on with in its selections on folks searching for non secular exemptions. See Griffen Thorne, How the DEA is Interfering with Religious Use of Psychedelics, JURIST – Skilled Commentary, October 12, 2020. So, the court docket accepted that the defendant’s non secular perception was honest and moved onto whether or not his follow disturbed the general public peace.
The court docket’s evaluation was prolonged and analyzed selections from New Hampshire, different states, and even federal selections, and finally concluded that the trial court docket erred in dismissing the case. Citing instances just like the U.S. Supreme Courtroom case of Gonzales v. O Centro, which we mentioned here, the court docket famous that the place there’s a non secular follow that violates a usually relevant regulation (i.e., a felony regulation that prohibits the usage of psychedelics), a balancing take a look at have to be employed. The petitioner should first set up that the regulation considerably burdens its non secular follow, and the federal government then has the burden to point out that its motion is critical to attain a compelling authorities curiosity and is narrowly tailor-made to take action. So, the supreme court docket held that the trial court docket erred in not making use of such a take a look at.
What does this imply for the defendant? His case is just not executed. The state supreme court docket remanded the case for additional consideration by the state trial court docket, which should now take extra proof and contemplate the foregoing balancing take a look at. In all chance, prosecutors will proceed with the case and argue that even underneath a balancing take a look at, they’re nonetheless proper (for what it’s price, the federal authorities misplaced on such arguments within the Gonzales case, which the New Hampshire supreme court docket famous was factually much like this case). It’s nonetheless doable that the defendant might be convicted, however this case actually offers him higher grounds to struggle it.
What does this choice imply for non secular use usually? Sadly, it’s pretty restricted. The choice doesn’t have an effect on federal regulation, and I’ve explained that it may be extraordinarily troublesome to cope with the DEA on this level. Whereas the choice is binding on courts in New Hampshire, it has no impact on legal guidelines in different states. That mentioned, a part of the choice analyzed a Massachusetts choice and famous that Massachusetts had a considerably related provision in its state structure. Due to this fact, this choice offers persuasive steerage to any state court docket in a state with related constitutional provisions.
Whereas the choice is pretty restricted, it once more displays shifting attitudes in direction of each non secular freedom and the usage of psychedelics. We are going to proceed to put up on this subject, so please keep tuned to the Canna Regulation Weblog.