Machine generated alternative text: 8—Hawaii Trbune . H•rald. Sunday, February 4. 1QG , Religious use of pot is upheld Q Federal appeals court ruling favors Rastafari believers SAN FRA34CISCO — Citin the t Relgous FrccdEe irtinW ed] yir: court has rledthat RastaIarans i&JPeir rciouuse1of jpartuip ai dÇICnsC iinit -1on c]ares ihe RFRA. as the law is known was passed in response to a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that allowed a peyote protecu lion dspite a claim that using the drug was central to e Native Ame rican religion. The law requires the govern. men( to prove a compelling Sus tificaii.on for any proscc1Son that substantially burdens the de fendant’s exercise of religion. . Ranafarianism, which origi. na ted In Jamaiça, considers mar• ¡juana to be a religious sacras men: cat brings believers closer to divinity and enhances their spiritual unity. . On Friday. the 9th U.S. Cir cuit Court of Appeals cited the RFRA in overturning three marijuana-possession convIctions in Montana because the judge had barred evidence of the de. fendants’ religious views. The court, however, upheld the onvictions and prison sen• tences of seven defendants on drug trafficking and related charges The possession charges were a small part of a case against members of an organization ac• cused of conspiring to import thousands of pounds of mari. juana from Mexico to BiEIing, Mont. for a decade. The alleged leaders Cameron Best, convicted of operating a continuing crirni nal enterprise, was sentenced to 35 years in prison In 1994, a sentence Ici: intact by the court. Legally, however, the ruling was significant for its ovcrturn• ing of a drug conviction based on the 1993 Law, which strengthened defenses against criminal prosecutions that ¡nier. feic with religious practices. The court did not cite any previous appellate decision that had used the RFRA to reverse a drug conviction, and a lawyer who has been a longtime advo cate of liberalizing drug 1aws said he was unaware of any such ruling. Th1s is a legitimate rçJlgjous for istafatjan said at orney ‘Rvtj, Zcese, leader of a. Washington, D.C.-based organi zation called Common Sense for Drug Policy. “They can’t reach a anto.or1atc re1igiou sO wtthout tanj& (n iiliia;Ii.  s — tidnt thç wine nuLpY the Catholic church, , «1ts a foreign concept to many people In the United States, but it’s a legitimate reU. gious need, and I’m glad to sec the 9th CIrcuit finding a way O, reCognize It.” , Assistant U.S. Mtorney James Seykora declined comment on the ruling. The law was signed by Presi dent Clinton during the Montana trial In November 1993 and wu cited by three defendants — Calvin Trelber, Dawn Mecki and Lexi Bauer — in seeking dismissal of marijuana. possession charges. : U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom found that the law against marijuana substantIally burdened the Rastafarian relig. ion but barred evidence of the defendants’ religious purposes and upheld the convictions. He cited earlier rulings that said the government has an overriding interest in regulatiúg marijuana. But the appeals court said RFRA requires the prosecution to show that the government has a compelling interest oa only ¿n , regulating marijuana, but also in prosecuting these particular de fendants for possession of the drug. Since no such proof was offered, and the evš of re hgous practices was barred, the oonv:ct.’ons must be reversed, the court said. The cows said the three dc. fendars could be retried and re quired to show that they are RastafananS who possessed the drug for religious purposes. Be cusc the reversals do not affect the defendants’ sentences, a ret rial is unlikely, but the ruling could be used in future drug cases in the nine Western states covered by the court, including Hawaii The religious defense does not apply to the more serious dmg charges such as conspiracy 1.0 distribuw, said the opinion by Judge John Noonan. dNothirig before us suggests that Rastaf rianism would require this cori- duct,” he said. : —