Friday, January 25, 2002

Opinions clash in
Big Island pot trial

Jonathan Adler seeks to use pakalolo for religious purposes

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Is marijuana such a menace that the state has a compelling reason to prevent people from using it even when their religion requires it?

Psychologist Tonya Canoso of the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center testified yesterday that marijuana is "highly addictive" and leads to medical, family and legal problems. That could be a compelling reason to ban even its religious use.

Kona Dr. William Wenner testified, "It's a nontoxic drug of no known dangerousness." That could mean there is no compelling reason to ban it.

The two opposing opinions were offered in the trial of Big Island marijuana advocate Jonathan Adler, who admits he possessed 89 marijuana plants seized by police in 1998.

Adler's defense is that use of marijuana is required by his religion, the Religion of Jesus Church, East Hawaii Branch.

Without marijuana, "The church would cease to exist," Adler testified.

Adler was tried last August, but the jury deadlocked in the case. He was tried again yesterday by Judge Greg Nakamura without a jury, with the focus on whether there is a "compelling interest" to limit his freedom of religion.

Opposing lawyers will present written closing arguments a month after trial transcripts are prepared, and Nakamura will then decide the case.

Canoso's testimony presented a picture of increasingly powerful marijuana used by adults and children as young as 5 years old. But she had to qualify her statements under cross-examination. She said marijuana causes hallucinations, but the example she gave was of a patient who was also mentally ill.

In fact, no more than 5 percent of her patients use only marijuana, and she said it is difficult to sort out the effects of one drug from another.

Wenner said if people have hallucinations, it's when they first start using marijuana. Eventually they get used to it, and most eventually stop using.

Canoso called marijuana and alcohol "gateway" drugs to other substances. Wenner said the worst gateway drug is cigarettes. Many give up marijuana, but most still smoke cigarettes 40 years after starting, he said.

Canoso said marijuana could be lethal if the user is driving a car. Wenner denied it.

"It would take about 50 pounds, and I don't think anybody could eat that much," he said.

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