When we spoke to Colorado-born, Hawaii-based THC Ministry founder Roger Christie in June 2010, he was readying a challenge to the federal government's marijuana laws that would have treated dispensaries like churches. But mere weeks later, he was busted by the feds on pot distribution charges and spent the next four years-plus in jail.
Now, Christie is out and readying a new push to bring Colorado-style marijuana laws to Hawaii.
See also: Marijuana Ministry Plans Injunction to Treat Dispensaries Like Churches, published in June 2010
Christie's ties to Colorado are strong, as he told us in a March 2010 interview.
"I was born in Steamboat Springs in 1949," he said at the time. "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."
He subsequently founded The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, aka THC Ministry, which treats marijuana as a sacrament. When we spoke to him in March 2010, he was standing behind Trevor Douglas, a 25-year-old Coloradan who was fighting a marijuana charge in Clear Creek County by claiming a religious exemption. Douglas joined the THC Ministry after his arrest, but Christie offered his blessing anyhow.
"We have a powerful identification card that's combined with the sincerity of our members," he said. "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."
Unfortunately for Douglas, his marijuana-is-my-religion defense failed; he was convicted of pot possession. But if the verdict depressed Christie, he didn't stay down for long. In June, he had a new plan to help people like Douglas down the line.
"We're preparing to file temporary and permanent injunctions on the state government and the federal government," Christie revealed. "Our goal is legal immunity from prosecution."
In his view, Colorado's medical marijuana 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."
Weeks later, another kind of bureaucracy came to the fore. As reported by Hawaii's KITV, Christie, his wife Share and members of his church were accused of a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Moreover, Christie was imprisoned without bail as his case slowly wound through the legal system.
In April 2014, Christie and Share belatedly agreed to a plea deal. He was sentenced to five years in prison, followed by four years of supervised release -- and because he'd been in custody since his arrest, he was shipped to a halfway house in September. And this week, in an e-mail shared with us by a local cannabis advocate, he wrote the following:
Aloha. It's Roger, finally writing to you from home sweet home on our farm in Pahoa, Hawaii after spending 50 months incarcerated in federal prison and two months in the Bureau of Prisons halfway house on Oahu. I hope you're doing great and your life is meaningful and good. Thanks for all of your love, support and encouragement these past four and a half years.
Share and I are healthy and happy as we're reunited on our little organic farm in the Hawaiian rainforest in the rainy season, surrounded by hot flowing lava on two sides of our neighborhood. Google "Pahoa lava flow" and see it for yourself. We're in the Kaohe Homesteads, three miles from Pahoa School. Extra excitement for sure. :-O
I'm finding myself saying that this legal experience was the best education I never wanted, and I feel kind of like a Cannabis Rip van Winkle waking up to the outside world again.
Among the events that took place while he was in stir was the legalization of limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington -- and Christie is obviously inspired by these examples. He's staging a "Roger's Free" fundraiser in Hilo, Hawaii on Thursday, December 4, and he writes that "we're also gathering to build support for legalizing marijuana in Hawaii and the concept we call Ganja-nomics, nature's economic stimulant. It's high time we end the war on the Cannabis culture and get real with reinstating our full natural and civil rights."
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Look below to see a video featuring Christie shortly after he got out of prison -- it features plenty of references to Colorado -- as well as a flier for this week's event in Hawaii.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.