Oklevueha Native Am. Church v. Lynch, No. 14-15143 (9th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq., the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), 42 U.S.C. 1996, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. Specifically, plaintiffs sought to prevent the government from prosecuting them under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., for possessing cannabis for religious or therapeutic use, obtaining cannabis, and cultivating or distributing cannabis consistent with state law. At issue in this appeal is the district court's grant of summary judgment for the government on the RFRA claim. The court concluded that, even assuming such use constitutes an “exercise of religion,” no rational trier of fact could conclude on this record that a prohibition of cannabis use imposes a “substantial burden.” Nothing in the record demonstrates that a prohibition on cannabis forces plaintiffs to choose between obedience to their religion and criminal sanction, such that they are being "coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs." The court failed to see how prohibiting a substance that plaintiffs freely admit is a substitute for peyote would force them to act at odds with their religious beliefs. In light of Holt v. Hobbs, plaintiffs in this case have produced no evidence establishing that denying them cannabis forces them to choose between religious obedience and government sanction. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims under the AIRFA because the Act does not create a cause of action or any judicially enforceable individual rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.