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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide in the next couple of months whether to uphold the Guam Supreme Court’s ruling allowing a man to legally smoke marijuana for religious purposes. A three-judge panel from the San Francisco-based appeals court heard oral arguments in Honolulu Monday in the case of Benny Toves Guerrero, who claims he’s a member of the Rastafarian religion and that use of marijuana is a required sacrament of his faith. Guerrero was arrested in January 1991 on charges he was found with more than 7 ounces (196 grams) of marijuana at Guam’s A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport. Last year, the high court in Guam affirmed the lower court decision to dismiss charges against Guerrero based on his claims of religious freedom, which they said were protected by the U.S. Constitution. The territorial government is attempting to overturn that ruling. Nelson Tebbe, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Monday that federal courts have historically recognized the competence of territorial supreme courts to rule on matters of local tradition and culture. Guerrero’s Rastafarian name is Ras Iyah Ben Makhana. “Rastafarianism is a legitimate religion,” he added. “Our client Ras Makhana is a devout adherent to this religion, and the use of marijuana as a sacrament is necessary for the practice of his faith. Guam’s high court is best suited to understand and appreciate the unique customs of its people.” “There is a question of whether federal court is going to interfere with the Guam court,” Boyd said. “It’s time to allow Guam courts to make their own decisions concerning Guam laws.” The judges from the 9th Circuit are expected to issue a ruling on the case in three to six months. Guam is a U.S. territory 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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