On Tuesday, Trevor Douglas, 25, argued that he should be acquitted of a marijuana-possession charge because he's a member of Hawaii's THC Ministry, and he views the herb as a holy sacrament.
Unfortunately for him, the judge in the case didn't buy his argument, surmising that Douglas was espousing philosophical beliefs rather than participating in an organized religion.
Not true, says Roger Christie, founder of THC Ministry. "Yes, we are a legitimate ministry," he says -- and he believes he can prove it.
Christie cites what he calls "the Meyers test," a reference to 1996's U.S. v. Meyers, a case involving David Meyers, who founded the Church of Marijuana. As noted in this Reason magazine article, the district court hearing the matter listed five factors that would differentiate a philosophy from a religion: "ultimate ideas," "metaphysical beliefs," "moral or ethical system," "comprehensiveness of beliefs" and "accoutrements of religon." This last category involves "Judeo-Christian hallmarks such as prophets, sacred texts, gathering places, keepers of knowledge, ceremonies and rituals, organization, holidays, dietary rules and fasts, special clothing, and proselytizing," according to Reason.
Here's Christie's interpretation:
"Meyers lost his case because they didn't have a definable ministry leader or headquarters. They said you need a definable ministry garment or jewelry item. You need to discuss metaphysical ideas of why we're here, and not just sit around smoking herb -- and we do all that. We meet that test. It's incumbent on me to be the responsible party here, and to teach members what this is all about -- that this is real and legitimate. And if that's what you want, we're here for you.
"We've been operating for ten years -- six years in the same location. We are a legitimate religion that provides sacraments and services to our members. And so far, so good."
In Christie's view, the ruling against Douglas shouldn't be construed as a strike against the THC Ministry. While "Trevor apparently mentioned our name when he was arrested and when he was interviewed, he wasn't an official member," he notes. "He didn't officially join until afterward. And we're in integrity with our paperwork. When somebody honestly joins, that's when they honestly join, and when people ask us, we tell them that. So it's my understanding that this gap is why the judge said we were more of a philosophy than a religion."
What lesson should people take from the ruling? To become a member of the THC Ministry before being popped for possession, not afterward.
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"It's kind of like insurance," Christie believes. "Get it before you have a fender-bender. And when you do, it's a demonstration of your mana in exercising your rights and religious freedom, and it quantifies your intention."
In the meantime, Christie is trying to see the positives in the Douglas verdict.
"No matter what the outcome in Trevor's case, I would say, 'God, that's great. Please show us the blessings in this situation, and hurry. We are safe, we are loved, and all is well.'
"That's our one-size-fits-all blessing," he adds. "And it works 100 percent of the time."