Police-Handling Guidelines Issued to Cannabis Congregation After Curious Questioning by City, Federal Authorities.

Do you believe marijuana is sacred matter? Anne Armstrong of The Healing Church, a cannabis-using religious sect, does. When she and four members of her congregation were stopped by both federal and city police officers on Sunday, May 17th after conducting services (meaning, smoking the "sacred matter") at the Roger Williams National Memorial, she decided to issue guidelines on how to interact with law enforcement. 

The altercation between church and police occurred when Deaconess Armstrong, who is also part of New England Cannabis Anti-Discrimination Taskforce (NECAT), was conducting services this past Sunday May 17, 2015 at the birthplace of U.S. religious freedom, Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence. 

Federal and City of Providence Police officers were curious about the small service--just Armstrong and four men were in attendance --because the congregation was smoking cannabis and receiving cannabis oil forehead anointing, which The Healing Church says is commanded by God and Moses in the Book of Exodus. 

Armstrong’s church has a permit for over 100 people to pray and use religious cannabis next Saturday, May 23rd 2105, at 8:00 pm, but the group lacked a permit to pray in the park on the morning of Sunday May 17th, and a federal Park Ranger sought to intervene. 

According to Armstrong, the exchange went as follows [paraphrased]:

Park Ranger: “You may not break the Controlled Substances Act here.”

Armstrong: “We’re not-- this cannabis is religious” [Armstrong hands Ranger her Ordination papers, showing that Armstrong has been clergy since 2002]

Park Ranger: “Your permit for that is not until next Saturday May 23rd.”

Armstrong: “We don’t need a permit to use cannabis in small groups.The Government lacks authority to issue or deny permits for Constitutionally-protected activity under Boardley v National Park Service (2010).Next week’s permit is so when more than 100 people smoke religious cannabis at once, the public’s use and enjoyment of the National Park is not impeded.But small groups gathering for Constitutionally-protected activity do not require permits.”

The congregation then smoked more religious cannabis for an hour, at which point Armstrong started towards the Park Service office to collect her Ordination papers. 

Then, City of Providence Police officers arrived, and put the Deaconess through the same drill (as seen here) before handing her the Ordination papers transferred to them by the Federal Ranger. 

Police can be clearly heard to say at 2:10 in the video that they have no problem with cannabis use on the permitted day.Armstrong can be heard (at 2:55-3:00 in the video) telling the officers she was about to drive home with the rest of the cannabis, and that they may inspect it if they wish. They decline.

Deaconess Armstrong seemed almost a little disappointed not to have been arrested, but, she says: “I can see why they would not want to make a test case of this at the birthplace of US religious freedom, but Armstrong and Gordon v National Park Service has a certain ring to it.”

Here are the unedited "Police-Handling Guidelines" Anne Armstrong gave the members of The Healing Church:

1. If approached by police, do not run, hide, or hide sacred matter.Stand up straight and tall, and smile.Leave your hands where the police can see them.Always tell the Truth.

2. If a police officer tells you your religious cannabis use is against the law, correct the officer by saying:“Not if it is sincerely religious, and this cannabis is religious matter.”

CAUTION:If you are not a sincere religious cannabis user, in good faith, do not expect to be taken seriously.Police officers get lied to all day long for a living, and they have pretty good bull-poop sniffers.If they know you’re lying, you may get arrested and hauled to court, where the sincerity of your religious belief is your burden to prove under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (State and Federal).

3. If the officer tries to tell you that religious cannabis use may only be undertaken with a permit, tell him or her that the law specifically prohibits Government from requiring permits for Constitutionally-protected activity (see the case of Boardley v Park Service 2010), and that good-faith religious substance use is protected by an 8-0 unanimous Supreme Court decision (Attorney General v United Church of the Vegetable 2006).

4. If any further difficulty ensues, then as soon as possible, contact Deaconess Anne Armstrong or Canon Alan Gordon for assistance.The police may not “substantially burden” your religious practice, and even questioning you for more than a moment might cross that line.Don’t wait if unsure--call for help.

What are your thoughts on cannabis as "religious matter"? Sound off below.  

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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