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Appeals court reinstates church's challenge to drug laws

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:39 p.m. HST, Apr 9, 2012


A federal appeals court reinstated today a lawsuit by a 250-member Native American church in Honolulu seeking to halt federal drug prosecution against its members for using marijuana for religious purposes.

But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of another part of the lawsuit seeking compensation for a pound of marijuana seized by federal authorities from FedEx in June 2009.

The marijuana was addressed to Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, founder and president of the Oahu chapter of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii.

The three-judge panel of the appeals court set aside the dismissal by U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway of another part of the lawsuit that seeks protection from the federal drug laws.

Mooney and the church contend that their use of marijuana is protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

No one has been arrested in the case.

The appeals court noted that a government lawyer acknowledged that the  seizure of the marijuana, worth about $7,000, was the result of a call from FedEx and not the result of any investigation.

The ruling clears the way for court proceedings here by Mooney and the church for a court order barring the prosecution for their religious use of marijuana.

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