Founder of The Hawaii Cannabis (THC) Ministry, Roger Christie, has been held in Honolulu federal prison without bail for over a year on charges related to marijuana possession and distribution. Three federal judges claim that Christie – Reverend of THC Ministry and one of Hawaii’s strongest advocates of medical marijuana – is a “danger to society”. So while infamous bank and bankruptcy fraudster Sukamto Sia was granted “release with conditions” by federal Judge Alan Ezra, and thousands of federal prisoners convicted of cocaine crimes are now eligible for release, Christie remains behind bars.
But Christie and his attorney, First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert, are standing their ground. In spite of the fact that some of the Hawaii marijuana growers being charged have already pleaded guilty and several of Christie’s co-defendants are also believed to be considering plea agreements, Christie maintains that he is innocent and protected under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), as he argues that in his case, marijuana is used as a religious sacrament. In fact, he believed so strongly that he was protected under RFRA, he operated as a cannabis minister openly in Hilo for 10 years.
It is this openness that may be cited to prevent some of the prosecutor’s alleged evidence into the trial. Leading up to Christie’s arrest in 2010, federal agents collected information via wiretaps. But wiretaps, Silvert explained in a recent interview with Honolulu Weekly, are only allowed when they are deemed necessary. In other words, all other means of collecting information must first be exhausted before wiretaps are employed. And an open storefront was quite literally an open door to information, rendering the wiretaps unnecessary and as such, potentially preventing them from being used during the upcoming trial.
Even if the information collected via wiretaps is allowed, Silvert believes Christie’s case has the potential to be dismissed entirely, based on the dated misclassification of marijuana. Marijuana is currently classified as a “Schedule I” controlled substance, which inappropriately puts it in the same category with much more dangerous drugs like heroin, LSD and PCP. If the drug code is revisited and marijuana were properly reclassified based on scientific evidence of marijuana’s safe and efficient medical uses, Silvert may argue, Christie’s case wouldn’t be a case at all.
If the marijuana minister’s is thrown out and cannabis is finally reclassified under the drug code, could Christie’s case be, as he describes it, the “last marijuana trial”? Set to go to trial in October, the case is indeed poised to have a significant impact on the future of medical marijuana laws here in Hawaii and across the country.