Marijuana ministry plans injunction to treat dispensaries like churches

Roger Christie, head of Hawaii's THC Ministry, is in Colorado for a series of events to promote using religious exemptions to get around new medical marijuana laws. And he hopes to take action in court by Independence Day to make the concept stick.

"We're preparing to file temporary and permanent injunctions on the state government and the federal government," Christie says. "Our goal is legal immunity from prosecution," by essentially forcing officials to treat participating dispensaries like churches and cannabis as a religious sacrament.

Christie, who was born in Steamboat Springs, begins his Colorado tour tonight in Colorado Springs, with a so-called "religious cannabis revival" slated for the Oriental Theater in Denver tomorrow and a conference in Nederland on Saturday. Click here for details courtesy of the Cannabis Therapy Institute.

Why so many events over such a short span?

"Part of the urgency of the situation has to do with Colorado's new regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries and patients," which go into effect on July 1, he notes. "The laws seem to place a highly undue burden on patients and their caregivers and the dispensers of cannabis that will likely increase the cost of accessing medical marijuana and frustrate the delivery system.

"So I'm hoping to provide an alternative -- a religious alternative to people. It's a constitutional alternative based on religion, so patients can access what we call a sacrament -- although 'sacramedicine' is a hybrid that's sometimes used. And that will allow them to sidestep and avoid the medical bureaucracy."

THC Ministry's promotes a similar philosophy as a way of getting out of legal trouble for possession of marijuana -- and it doesn't always work. In March, Christie offered spiritual support for Trevor Douglas, 25, who fought a possession of marijuana charge in Clear Creek County via the claim that he viewed cannabis as a sacrament. But the judge didn't buy it, sentencing Douglas to a $200 fine and fifteen hours of community service.

Granted, Douglas didn't officially join THC Ministry until after his arrest -- and Christie claims that this defense has succeeded in more than a hundred cases he's tracked. But he realizes that for this approach to win wider acceptance, it'll have to be codified. Hence, the injunction, which is being readied under the supervision of numerous high profile medical marijuana attorneys.

"We're hoping for something similar to what the Catholic Church enjoyed during alcohol prohibition," Christie points out. "As far as I know, no one was counting their bottles of sacramental wine during that experiment, and we claim a similar position. It's just that it's a different sacrament in a different age."

This is familiar territory for Christie, who filed a federal injunction back in 2004. According to him, he subsequently "dismissed the case voluntarily, because my lawyer had bad manners with the DEA, and it was embarrassing to me. My mom had a phrase inscribed in her class ring that said, 'Manners maketh man,' and that's something really meaningful to me in my daily life. So when my own lawyer had bad manners, I immediately fired him and had him dismiss our federal injunction."

Nonetheless, Christie goes on, "I learned so much from that experience. We got a motion to dismiss from the highest level. [Former Attorney General] John Ashcroft's lawyer put the ministry under a microscope at that time and pointed out the holes we had. And in the years since then, we've been able to patch the holes in the boat. Now, we're in much better shape to have legal standing to refile, and it's definitely ripe for review."

According to Christie, dispensaries and patients will be considered for membership in THC Ministry "if someone meets the test of sincerity," he says. "Then, we can welcome them into the ministry and they can avoid the medical regulations and legal entanglements that come with it. This is separation of church and state in one of its purest forms."

As for the timing of the court action, that's being discussed this week. But Christie says the injunctions are "likely to be filed in Colorado as part of our emotional celebration of the 4th of July. Because the fireworks are in the Constitution."

And he hopes those fireworks will blaze, in more ways than one.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts