Minister seeks return of peyote

LIHUE — The defendant in a drug possession case against a Native American church that was dismissed in February was in 5th Circuit Court again on Monday to ask for an order that the police return property held in evidence, including ceremonial peyote.

Jesse Shane Johnson, 38, minister for Beauty Way of the Four Directions of the Native American Church of Hawaii, had a felony narcotics case against him dismissed on Feb. 28. The decision included a court order to the Kauai Police Department for return of evidence.

Johnson’s attorney, Gregory Meyers, said he contacted the Kauai Police Department about returning the evidence following the dismissal with prejudice and followed through with the County Attorney’s Office. He said there has been no response.

“It has been eight months,” Meyers said.

First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Takata, who took over the case just as the 180-day limit to bring the defendant to trial had expired, resulting in the dismissal, said he had signed off on the return of evidence order and communicated it to KPD and the County Attorney’s Office.

Takata said there was a party from Colorado also contacting the prosecutor’s office with a claim of ownership to evidence, which would require an inter-plead action for the third party interest.

Chief Judge Randal Valenciano said he could not rule on a contempt motion when it was not clear if the parties had been served with the order letter.

He ordered the parties at KPD and the County Attorney’s Office to be served and set a hearing on the matter for Nov. 13.

Johnson is an ordained minister who is licensed to practice the ceremonial use of peyote. His rights are protected under the First Amendment and U.S. Code Title 42 on Traditional Indian religious use of peyote.

KPD officers raided Johnson’s residence and reported peyote cacti and dried byproducts along with processed marijuana on Dec. 19, 2011.

Police said the marijuana exceeded Johnson’s medicinal permit, but did not mention if the peyote was in violation of his rights to religious possession.

The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations concerning food and drugs lists the Native American Church as a special exemption regarding drug enforcement.

Peyote is a controlled substance but not for non-drug use in native religious ceremonies.

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