Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jul 2006
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2006 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Stephanie Innes
Cited: Church of Cognizance
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Spiritual or Sacramental)


S. Arizona Couple Face Prison for What They Say Is Religious Use of Marijuana

The Church of Cognizance, which has quietly operated here since 1991,
has an unusual tenet -- its worshippers deify and use marijuana as
part of their faith.

Until federal authorities charged them with possessing 172 pounds of
their leafy green sacrament earlier this year, church founders Dan and
Mary Quaintance say they smoked, ate or drank marijuana daily as a way
of becoming more spiritually enlightened.

But now, with added conspiracy charges, the Quaintances face up to 40
years each in prison in a case they call religious

Federal prosecutors say religious freedom does not exempt the use of
illegal drugs. The Quaintances say it does. They also say a recent
U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing a religious group's use of a
hallucinogenic tea containing a federally banned substance should
nullify the charges against them.

The couple is scheduled to go on trial in Las Cruces, N.M., on July
18, though defense lawyers are asking for a delay.

"They have a bona fide religion and the only marijuana they utilize is
for the practice of their religion," said Mary Quaintance's attorney,
Mario A. Esparza. "Our Constitution in the United States guarantees
that freedom of religion, and the Quaintances are being punished for
the very thing the Constitu-tion stands for.

"They did not distribute to anyone outside of the church and they
never profited from it," Esparza said.

The Church of Cognizance, which leaders say has 72 monasteries located
in members' homes nationwide, has a simple motto: "With good thoughts,
good words and good deeds, we honor marijuana; as the teacher, the
provider, the protector."

Dan Quaintance, 54, says the church has 40 to 50 members in Arizona,
but cannot estimate how many there are nationwide. Leaders say members
must be 18 to join, and he says the average age of worshippers in
Arizona is 35. Dan, who preaches at weddings and funerals of church
members, says the church does not sell its sacrament or

"Laws exist to protect people from injury and we've injured nobody,"
said Dan Quaintance, an Iowa native, Vietnam veteran and retired
welder who identifies himself as his church's "chief

"Marijuana is the averter of death," he said. "The energy and spirit
that is in marijuana is God. You consume the plant and you consume
God. You are sacrificing your body to the deity."

The Quaintances were arrested 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.

A variety of religious groups representing millions of members filed
briefs supporting O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, or
UDV, and its use of hoasca -- among them the Arizona Civil Liberties
Union, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National
Association of Evangelicals and the Union for Reform Judaism. Some
supporters likened banning the tea to a federal ban on sacramental

Graham County Sheriff Frank Hughes says that in his 10 years on the
job, he's never had a complaint about the Quaintances, who live in a
small rectangular home in the sparsely populated rural community of
Pima, about 90 miles northeast of Tucson.

Their home sits on a four-acre property that's dotted with old
vehicles. Alongside their house is a wall made out of tires, which the
Quaintances say eventually will form the boundary of an outdoor chapel.

The couple's 31-year-old daughter, Zina; her husband, Tim; and their
three children have a home on the property, as do the Quaintances'
28-year-old son, Dennis, and his wife, Vanessa, and their son.

Their home bears no resemblance to a traditional church, inside or
out. Yet the Quaintances call it a monastery and are adamant that the
church they founded together is a sincere, legitimate faith -- on par
with any mainstream religious denomination.

A tapestry of Bob Marley smoking a large joint decorates the front
hallway, and inside, the couple has a few handmade pipes, some of
which have won ribbons in the glazing division of the Graham County
Fair. Most of their pipes and other sacramental accessories were
seized when authorities searched their home March 3, they say.

The Quaintances do not grow their sacrament but, rather, say they rely
on donations of it, which they pick up from church "couriers." That's
what they say they were about to do when they were arrested.

They smoke the marijuana or sometimes blend it into a milk-like drink,
saying it helps them to become more enlightened and in tune with the
universe. Until they were arrested, the Quaintances say they'd smoked
or ingested the plant every day of their 33-year marriage, even before
they formed their church. Both were marijuana users when they met, and
they credit the plant to helping their marriage survive.

"It makes you better at what you do, enhances who you are. It is the
most beautiful plant on Earth," said Mary Quaintance, 51, a homemaker
from Northern California who married Dan in 1973, when she was 18.
They met while Mary worked as nurse's aide in Chico, Calif., and
rented a room from Dan's parents.

Dan Quaintance, who grew up in the United Methodist faith and once was
president of his church youth group, says finding marijuana helped him
finish high school, later kick a heroin addiction and get through
acute pancreatitis.

It was during his illness that he began researching marijuana's use
among ancient cultures, and he started to think about forming his own
church. As he reread the Bible, he believed many passages that
referred to a leaf, tree or plant were talking about marijuana.

"Religion is basically putting your faith in what you rely on," he
said. "Jesus started his church because of what he believed and learned."

He filed a "declaration of religious sentiment" on behalf of the
Church of Cognizance with the Graham County Recorder's Office in 1994,
though Dan, his family and other members say the church dates to 1991.

Services at the Church of Cognizance aren't scheduled. According to
the Quaintances, members call the monasteries and arrange a worship
time, which typically includes using marijuana and listening to
sermons by fellow cognoscenti that talk about peaceful existence.

"Dan and Mary are two of the most beautiful, wholesome people," said
Daniel Jeffrey, an enlightened cognoscente in Puna, Hawaii. "We're not
involved with herb for any kind of profit gain. If you tell people
that, their mind just can't grasp it."

Still, Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Virginia-based First
Amendment Center, says any group seeking an exemption to the nation's
drug laws, even for religious purposes, has a "hill to climb."

And he says the federal government is likely in a better position to
win against the religious use of marijuana than it was for the
hallucinogenic tea case, given the prevalence of marijuana and the
federal government's concern about a drug problem in the country.

The hallucinogenic tea is difficult to find and reportedly doesn't
taste very good, Haynes said, noting the same is true for peyote,
which also is a federally banned substance.

A federal exemption for peyote exists when it's used for religious
practices by members of the Native American Church. In Arizona, people
using peyote who aren't members of the Native American Church also are
exempt as long as the peyote is used for a "bona fide religious
purpose" in a manner that doesn't threaten the public. But there are
no such exceptions for marijuana.

"Marijuana is difficult, even if they have a sincere religious
belief," Haynes said. "The federal government has already successfully
fought efforts to get a medical exemption."

The U.S. Constitution contains no legally recognizable definition of
religion, but courts still can apply a test of sincerity, said Jeremy
Gunn, director of the Freedom of Religion and Belief program for the
American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the UDV church.

If, for example, a group of prisoners calling themselves the Church of
Cabernet and Filet Mignon argued religious belief as a reason to be
served wine and better food, the government would have a right to
question the sincerity of their theological belief, he said.

"The UDV case did not open the floodgate," he said. "The government
needs to show why it makes sense to apply the drug laws in that
circumstance. In the UDV case, the hallucinogenic tea is honestly a
traditional part of the religious practice."

The office of the U.S. attorney for New Mexico, David C. Iglesias,
prosecuted the UDV case, and also is prosecuting the Quaintances. His
office declined to comment on a pending case.

The Quaintances have no history of criminal convictions in Arizona,
where they've lived since 1986, but both have prior convictions for
marijuana possession in Washington state, records show. Dan Quaintance
says he also has a 1974 conviction from California for driving under
the influence and spent 30 days in jail for that offense.

The Quaintances spent two weeks in a New Mexico jail after their
arrest this year and, as part of their court-ordered release, must
have regular urine tests to ensure they aren't using any marijuana.
Both say that living without their deity for the first time in more
than three decades is extremely difficult.

The complaint against the couple, which was amended, includes two
other defendants -- Timothy Jason Kripner, 23, of Tucson and Joseph
Allen Butts, 48, of California.

The revised complaint raised the stakes in the case, adding conspiracy
charges and more than 220 pounds of marijuana. Dan Quaintance says
Kripner and Butts are both certified couriers for the church. Kripner
was traveling with the Quaintances when they were arrested, and
authorities say Butts was involved in a conspiracy with them to
distribute marijuana.

"They may take Dan and Mary down but they will never take the church
down," Mary Quaintance said.
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