Minister declares victory in pot trial
By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
HILO, Hawai'i Big Island marijuana advocate Jonathan Adler declared victory yesterday after a jury was unable to decide whether he is sincere in his religious beliefs that include use of the illegal substance as a sacrament.
"Yes, son, I say we won," Adler shouted into a cellular phone in the hallway outside of the courtroom after Judge Greg Nakamura dismissed jurors late in the day. After talking on the phone with his 11-year-old son, Adler turned to reporters and declared: "I am the grower of the best buds on this planet."
Adler, 49, admitted growing marijuana at his Hawaiian Paradise Park home for medical and religious purposes. He is a minister in the Religion of Jesus Church and holds a state medical marijuana permit.
Police found 89 marijuana plants at Adler's house during a Aug. 25, 1998, raid. He was charged with second-
degree promotion of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The jury was given the task of deciding first whether Adler was guilty of the two charges, then whether he was motivated by a "legitimate and sincerely held religious belief" and whether smoking marijuana was an important part of his faith.
If the jury voted "yes" on the questions, then Nakamura would have had to rule whether the state had a compelling interest in preventing Adler from using marijuana, and whether that interest outweighed Adler's religious rights.
However, while finding the defendant guilty of the drug charges, jurors were unable to decide the second question.
At prosecutors' request, Nakamura set a hearing for Sept. 14 to determine the next step in the proceedings.
Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Hashizaki told jurors in closing arguments in the two-week trial that Adler was using religion as a front for engaging in illegal activity. He said the fact that Adler also testified that he needs marijuana for medical reasons shows he will use whatever excuse he can to smoke pot.
Defense attorney Michael Glenn argued that Adler's marijuana use is protected by the State Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.
Adler is an announced candidate for Hawai'i governor in the 2002 election.