Pot-deifying duo guilty, confident they'll avoid prison

Arizona Daily Star/September 5, 2008

The founders of an Arizona church that deifies marijuana have pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and are now each facing up to 20 years in prison.

But Dan and Mary Quaintance, founders of the Church of Cognizance, remain confident that they will not end up behind bars. Although sentencing in federal court is set to take place within the next 75 days, the Quaintances are confident an appeal will keep them out of prison.

The couple on Aug. 18 pleaded guilty to two counts relating to their 2006 federal arrest - one count of conspiracy with intent to distribute 200 pounds or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana; and one count of possession with the intent to distribute 100 pounds or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, as well as aiding and abetting.

The sentence will depend on the discretion of the judge, said Dan Quaintance's lawyer, Jerry Daniel Herrera.

Dan Quaintance believes freedom of religion will prevail, and predicts the case could go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It was tough to plead guilty, but really we were just pleading to what we said we did. There is no doubt we had marijuana with us," he said.

"We think ultimately the courts will see that we are just people using marijuana for our religion. It's the First Amendment. We think we've got a pretty good case."

The Quaintances live in Pima, Ariz., which is about 90 miles northeast of Tucson. They returned to their home after pleading guilty.

The pair, both in their 50s, had attempted to have the charges against them dismissed on the grounds that marijuana is part of their religion. A U.S. District Court dismissed that appeal, and the Quaintances said that's why they pleaded guilty - without the religion defense they knew they'd be convicted at trial.

But now that the case has been concluded, the Quaintances expect the appellate court to reconsider the religious argument.

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

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

The pair say they founded their Church of Cognizance in Pima in 1991.

In court documents, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office said the Quaintances are "obsessed and focused on marijuana," and Dan Quaintance's writings about his worship are "disjointed, poorly supported, illogical ramblings."

Both Dan and Mary Quaintance stepped down as leaders of the church after their arrests. They continue to submit to court-ordered urine tests twice per month.

"It has affected our lives dramatically," Quaintance said Thursday.

"We just celebrated our 35th anniversary and it's the third year we haven't been able to celebrate in our customary way. We'd always celebrate with some herb. All those years we've had together, we've always been close to the herb."

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