Pubdate: Sat, 9 Sep 2000
Source: Pacific Daily News (Guam)
Copyright: 2000 Pacific Daily News
Page: 1 - Front Page
Address: P.O. Box DN Hagatna, Guam 96932
Author: Tanya M.C. Mendiola


A local man has won the right to smoke marijuana as part of his religion in 
a Supreme Court of Guam decision yesterday.

Benny Toves "Rasta Ben" Guerrero's legal battle began on Jan. 2. 1991, when 
he was arrested and charged with importation after between seven and eight 
ounces of marijuana was found on him at the A.B. Won Pat Guam International 
Air Terminal as he tried to enter the island. Guerrero, who is a follower 
of the Rastafarian religion, told court that marijuana use is a required 
sacrament of that faith.

The Supreme Court of Guam issued an opinion on the appeal it heard in March 
that affirmed a lower court's dismissal of an indictment in a drug case 
that cited religious freedom.

Constitution Cited

Justices found that the government infringed on "the defendant's right to 
free exercise of his religion as protected by the United States 
Constitution and the Organic Act of Guam and the Religious Freedom 
Restoration Act of 1993."

D. Paul Vernier Jr., Guerrero's attorney, said he had not had an 
opportunity to speak with his client about the decision.

"It means that the Guam Supreme Court will eagerly protect the people of 
Guam's religious freedoms," Vernier said.

"Before the government can infringe on those freedoms, the government has 
to prove that there is compelling government interest that will override a 
citizen's right to practice his or her religion."

Landmark Case

The higher court's decision is a landmark case for Guam in regard to the 
First Amendment right of freedom of religion, he added.

"It's setting out a criteria by which it will judge the laws that might 
infringe upon religious freedom," Vernier said. "The people of Guam should 
feel confident that the court here will protect the free expression of 
their religious beliefs." 
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