Rohi Israel expected to return to prison Wednesday for smoking marijuana
while on supervised release. But a federal judge in Fort Wayne told him he
can be free until an appeals court decides whether smoking marijuana is his
religious right as a Rastafarian.

U.S. District Judge William C. Lee ruled that Israel should serve 11 months
in prison for violating the terms of supervised release, but he agreed to
stay the sentence pending appeal.

Israel's court-appointed attorney has 30 days to file a notice of appeal
with the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago.

The issue is whether the First Amendment right to freedom of religion is
subservient to criminal laws that prohibit the use of marijuana in a
situation where marijuana is an integral part of the religion, said Thomas
O'Malley, Israel's attorney.

"It's a really interesting issue," O'Malley said.

Rastafarians, who typically wear their hair in dreadlocks, listen to reggae
music and avoid eating meat, consider smoking marijuana a sacrament.
Rastafarianism is among the religious groups recognized within the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In February 2000, a federal judge in Washington state ruled that Raynard
Valrey had a right to smoke marijuana while practicing the Rastafarian
religion, even on supervised release from prison.

Calling that case "something of an anomaly," Lee ruled that it didn't apply
to Israel. However, he remained open to the chance appellate judges might
reverse his decision.

"They are in a much better position for policy making," Lee said. "I'm
simply following the law as I see it."

Lee ruled in January that Israel's practice of using the drug "all day,
every day" violated the terms of supervised release. Israel failed 10
random drug screens last year, records show.

At a Jan. 11 hearing, Israel promised to stop smoking marijuana for the
remaining two years he was on court supervision, and Lee decided not to
send him back to prison.

Within a month of that decision, Israel was smoking again, according to
tests performed by the U.S. Probation and Pre-Trial Services office.

Two drug screens taken in January showed decreasing amounts of marijuana
and one taken Jan. 28 came back negative, testified Ned Edington, a U.S.
probation and pretrial services officer. But two urine screens taken in
February showed "fairly extensive use," Edington testified.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Nommay recommended that Israel serve seven
months in prison for the violation.

Israel told the court Wednesday he smoked marijuana to keep the evil
spirits away.

"Have you had the evil spirits around in the past month?" Lee asked the man
in dreadlocks sitting on the witness stand.

"Oh, yeah," Israel replied.

Asked to quantify how much he smoked, Israel estimated a gram of marijuana
a day.

Israel also clarified statements he made at a December court hearing about
smoking marijuana "all day, every day."

Israel compared his practice of smoking marijuana to the compulsory prayers
of Muslims, who pray five times a day.

"If the evil spirits come, he needs to smoke the green," Israel said.

Afterward, Nommay said she was confident the appeals court would affirm
Lee's decision.

Israel said he thanked God for not being sent back to prison.

Formerly Jarvis D. Jefferson, Israel served five years in federal prison
for being a felon in possession of a handgun. Prior to that, he served five
years in state prison for burglary and selling controlled substances,
Israel said.

Pubdate: Thu, 28 Mar 2002
Source: Journal Gazette, The (IN)
Copyright: 2002 The Journal Gazette
Author: Laura Emerson