Self-proclaimed 'Native' church loses decision on marijuana use

James "Flaming Eagle" Mooney serves as the leader of a group called the Oklevueha Native American Church. Photo from Facebook

Members of the Oklevueha Native American Church are not exempt from federal marijuana laws, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.

The church claimed a right to use marijuana during religious ceremonies but the court said the group had not demonstrated how federal drug laws imposed a "substantial burden" on their practices. In particular, the court pointed out that the group already has access to peyote and that its members admitted that marijuana was merely a substitute for that sacrament.

"They make no claim that peyote is unavailable or that cannabis serves a unique religious function," Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote for the majority.

Despite the loss, the Oklevueha Native American Church has secured other legal victories by acting as a "Native" church. But the group is controversial in Indian Country because its leaders have tenuous tribal heritage claims.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Arguments in Oklevueha Native American Church v. Lynch

"The leader of this church is James Warren ‘Flaming Eagle’ Mooney. He claims to be Seminole," Ruth Hopkins wrote on Indian Country Today last December. "If you research Mr. Mooney online, you’ll uncover a veritable maze of a pretendian who is desperately trying to prove he’s Native."

The church responded to the critique in January but did not detail Mooney's alleged Indian ancestry. Instead, the group wrote that the the Utah Supreme Court "decided it was proven beyond doubt and by DNA evidence that James and [wife] Linda are both Native American."

But the court never made such a determination, instead ruling that any member of the Native American Church -- regardless of heritage -- can use peyote. The state of Utah had tried to claim that only members of federally recognized tribes can use the drug.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the 9th Circuit case, Oklevueha Native American Church v. Lynch.

Get the Story:
Court: Native American church not excused from cannabis laws (AP 4/6)

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Oklevueha Native American Church v. Lynch (April 6, 2016)

Related Stories:
ONAC: Church defends attempt to use marijuana in ceremonies (1/4)
Ruth Hopkins: Fake Indians claim religious right to marijuana (12/21)
Man who claims to be Seminole wins decision in NAC case (4/10)

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