Thursday, August 30, 2001

Big Island
marijuana case ends
with hung jury

The jurors could not agree
on the role played by religion

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> A judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the marijuana case of Jonathan Adler, charged with possessing 89 marijuana plants in 1998.

Judge Greg Nakamura declared the mistrial after the jury foreman said the jury agreed that Adler was guilty of possessing the plants but could not agree on the additional question of the sincerity of Adler's religious beliefs.

Adler testified he has been a minister since 1974 in the Religion of Jesus Church, which requires its members to smoke marijuana. He admitted growing the plants but asserted a constitutional religious right to have them.

Jurors deliberated for a total of about 14 hours before declaring themselves deadlocked. They left the court building without commenting on how many believed Adler's sincerity and how many did not.

If jurors had unanimously decided that Adler was not sincere and that his religion did not require the use of marijuana, the case would have ended with the guilty verdict.

If they unanimously decided he was sincere and was required to use marijuana, another phase of the trial would have been triggered.

The judge would have determined whether the state has a "compelling interest" in limiting Adler's right to freedom of religion. The judge would also determine whether total prohibition of marijuana is the "least restrictive means" to satisfy the compelling interest.

Deputy Prosecutor Mel Fujino said he was fairly sure his office would retry the case.

Nakamura set Sept. 14 for lawyers to meet to set a new trial date.

Defense attorney Michael Glenn said he was unsure whether he would represent Adler in a retrial. He represented Adler in this trial "pro bono publico," meaning for free and for the public good, he said.

"It's not Mr. Adler's rights on trial," he said, "it's every American citizen in this country's rights."

While the charge relating to the 89 plants remains unsettled, Adler is also charged with a separate offense of possessing 55 plants in 1999 and supplying marijuana to an undercover officer who posed as a person needing marijuana for medical reasons.

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