I’ve been following Roger Christie’s pro-cannabis/anti-drug war efforts for about 20 years now, ever since I ran into him on the Big Island while working for the now defunct Honolulu Advertiser. He’s had some successes, including winning a selective prosecution lawsuit against Hawaii County, helping to get voters to approve an initiative that makes marijuana cultivation and possession the lowest police priority and convincing that island’s County Council to reject funding for “Green Harvest.”
Now, however, he’s facing serious federal charges of conspiracy and marijuana manufacturing [how, exactly, do you manufacture a plant, except through genetic engineering?], possession and distribution related to his THC Ministry in Hilo.
The feds, who actually used a Coast Guard C-130 plane to bring Christie and the other 13 defendants to Honolulu, played up the bust at a well-covered news conference, prompting a friend to observe, “Of course. They gotta shoot him down in the media first before they shoot him down in court.”
I was astounded to read that Christie and a few other defendants may not be released on bail pending trial, and that some of them could actually face life in prison for growing marijuana plants. This prompted one Star-Advertiser reader to comment:
Our justice system is grossly disproportionate compare BP to Roger Christie. Roger is in Jail. BP still making millions. Who did a greater disservice to our country? Where is the Sanity?
Really, where is the Sanity? Btw, did you know oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, and that BP was getting a tax deduction of $225,000 per day for renting the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig? And people bitch about welfare….
Getting back to Roger, his arrest prompted some interesting responses from the pro-cannabis crowd, including this apt observation from the California Cannabis Ministry blog:
Arresting Roger Christie is thuggish -- more of the same from our military industrial corporate chemical government, that shoots innocents with drones; induces birth defects for generations using depleted uranium munitions; bankrupts our country then rewards the guilty bankers; pokes a gaping petroleum wound into the Gulf of Mexico; "fraks" our water supplies; and engenders a two trillion dollar black market while creating essential resource scarcity in the world by banning industrial hemp agriculture.
You can’t say they don’t have a good point. But so does “Radical” Russ Belville of the NORML Stash blog, who earlier this year took Roger to task for promising ministry practitioners a religious use defense that thus far hasn’t held up in court:
Never mind that civil rights attorneys who went to law school and studied and litigated the issue for decades now have been unable to get one single US court to recognize a First Amendment right cannabis as a sacrament.
[H]ere’s the point upon which all attempts to recognize a First Amendment right to religious cannabis use have failed:
The Sherbert Test consists of four criteria that are used to determine if an individual’s right to religious free exercise has been violated by the government. The test is as follows:
For the individual, the court must determine:
• whether the person has a claim involving a sincere religious belief, and
• whether the government action is a substantial burden on the person’s ability to act on that belief.
If these two elements are established, then the government must prove:
• that it is acting in furtherance of a “compelling state interest,” and
• that it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or least burdensome, to religion.
As Belville notes, a Colorado judge didn’t buy the THC Ministry defense, and I found that a Pennsylvania man who attempted to use that same defense in a hearing before a judge was sentenced to 9 to 23 months in jail.
Roger, who is totally sincere in his efforts and beliefs, may do better in a jury trial. Since this is not his first barbecue, I assume he has a good attorney and is going to use the trial to further champion the cause. And that's really what this is all about. Roger has been too outspoken, made too much headway, and the feds want to shut him up and put him away.
In the meantime, Hawaii sent the world a bizarre message last week: it opposes civil rights and religious freedom, but welcomes war games with open arms.
That's kind of a twisted image for the so-called Aloha State.