At 2 p.m. today, Trevor Douglas, 25, will step into a Clear Creek County courthouse and defend himself against possession accusations involving marijuana and paraphernalia when he was pulled over for expired vehicle registration last August.
His assertion? He's a member of both the Church of Universal Sacraments and The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, aka the THC Ministry, and he uses marijuana in the practice of his religion.
This approach has the blessing, literally, of THC Ministry founder Roger Christie. And even though he notes that Douglas wasn't a member of his church until after his arrest, he predicts that he'll prevail in court anyhow, based on what he insists is an impressive track record for believers in similar situations.
"We have, as far as we can track them, about 106 victories for members who have succeeded under arrest conditions in beating their charges, or having a case either dropped or not being brought in the first place," Christie says from his Hawaii home.
How about defeats?
"We've only lost six that I know of," he says. "And in two of those cases, there were questions that the people involved weren't actually sincere members and in integrity."
Christie, who claims the ministry has more than 50,000 members in over sixty countries, sees these last two qualities as key for success in the legal sphere.
"We have a powerful identification card that's combined with the sincerity of our members," he says. "The two major qualities of religious exemptions to probition are the sincerity of the individual, usually judged quickly on good manners and respect, and the legitimacy of the individual. And our ID card mentions my Hawaii state license. I think I'm the first person in the U.S. to be licensed by a state as a cannabis minister. And everyone who registers with the THC Ministry becomes part of that legitimacy. It's like the branches of a tree."
Although based in Hawaii, the THC Ministry is growing in numerous places on the mainland, including Boulder, where Reverend James Marks is presently located; Marks blessed the Capitol in January as part of a Mile High NORML Cannabis Rally staged in conjunction with Governor Bill Ritter's state-of-the-state speech. And Christie himself has prominent Colorado roots.
"I was born in Steamboat Springs in 1949," he notes. "My family moved to the East Coast when I was young, but I moved back to Colorado as an adult and spent most of the 1970s and half of the 1980s in Denver. In fact, I ran for mayor against Mayor Bill McNichols in 1979. I was running as a legalize-it, baby-boomer candidate, and even though I'd properly filed all my paperwork, the host of a debate tried to keep me out -- and to Bill McNichols's credit, he stood up for me and made sure I entered the debate."
In much the same way, Christie encourages his members not to simply surrender if they're accused of marijuana-related violations.
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"Free-will choice is a very powerful thing -- and we get to choose to exercise our rights or to be a victim," he argues. "The word 'victim' comes from 'victima,' which is a word used for a small animal marked for slaughter in ancient days. And part of our personal evolution is choose to exercise our rights to stand up for what we believe in and exercise our personal morality rather than being a victim. We're the Supreme Court of our own personal morality."
In regard to other, less individual courts, Christie says, "You have to be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, and the THC Ministry provides that reasonable doubt. We're licensed, we're legitimate, and our members are sincere -- and because of that, we should win every case. And every single person over age 21 is entitled to this defense. Getting high is a spiritual activity and a spiritual term. Every state guarantees religious freedom as the premiere freedom, and people have been using cannabis for spiritual purposes for millennia. So of course we can, too.
"Even though Trevor Douglas didn't officially join our ministry until after the fact, we still think we can assist him in winning his case," Christie continues; to read a letter he wrote on Douglas's behalf, click here. "And part of the way we do that is by looking not at the legality of the circumstance, but the morality -- and the mana, the inner spiritual strength of the individual, is also at play here. And joining our ministry helps to build people's mana, so that their victimhood disappears."
Christie doesn't know if THC Ministry members will go to the courthouse to watch Douglas make his pitch -- but even if none of them can find room in their schedules, "we're supporting Trevor with our prayers and our spiritual support from the home base here, which we do for all our members," he says. "Because once people join the ministry, they have a built-in religious defense from prosecution for life. So we look forward to a victory in this case. I know Trevor is a sincere young man, and he's exercising his mana by fighting the system and choosing success."