Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jun 2011
Source: Honolulu Weekly (HI)
Copyright: 2011 Honolulu Weekly Inc.
Author: C.J. Cameron Johnson


Marijuana Minister Says "This Is the Last Marijuana

Rev. Roger Christie / With a new attorney and a delayed trial date,
Hilo's marijuana minister plans to challenge the basis of the
government's case by calling into question the Drug Enforcement
Agency's (DEA) current, allegedly disingenuous, classification of
marijuana. Facing anywhere from five to 40 years in federal prison for
crimes relating to the distribution of marijuana, Rev. Roger Christie,
founder of The Hawaii Cannabis (THC) Ministry, appears to be digging
in his heels, even as his co-defendants ("the Green 13") are making
deals with the government.

Before his arrest (and to this day) the popular Christie believed
providing marijuana as part of the religious experience at THC
Ministry in Hilo was protected under the Religious Freedom and
Restoration Act (RFRA). Though he operated openly as a state-licensed
cannabis minister out of a Hilo storefront for 10 years, it turns out
the federal government does not agree Christie is protected by the
RFRA. After a prolonged and extensive investigation involving
undercover agents and wiretaps, federal law enforcement officers
raided Christie's home and church in March 2010.

Christie was indicted for allegedly committing three felony marijuana
crimes-conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent
to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants; manufacturing marijuana;
and possession with intent to distribute 240 marijuana plants. He was
taken into custody on July 8, 2010, and is currently being held
without bond in federal detention.

Matthew Winter, Christie's original federal defense attorney, has
moved on to private practice. His new attorney, who took him on in
late April, First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert, is
filing motions in preparation for trial, now set to begin on October 4
before Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi.

"Some of the [marijuana] growers have pled or are going to plead
guilty," Silvert says. "No one in the church yet has pled, but we
believe that some of those people may be cooperating [with the
prosecution], which will lead to an eventual plea.

"On our end, everything is still very much up in the air, and all
options are being considered," Silvert says. When asked about the
prospect of Christie reaching some kind of plea agreement with the
prosecution between now and October, Silvert would not comment.
Assistant US Attorney Beverly Sameshima, who is handling some aspects
of the government's case, also demurred when asked about any current
negotiations, stating she couldn't comment on anything that's not public.

"It's still pending," Sameshima says of the Christie prosecution.
Silvert, tipping his hand, says he's looking at filing two motions.
One motion is to suppress the information the government gleaned from
the wiretaps. A second motion is to dismiss the case altogether, based
on the misclassification of marijuana under the drug code.

Wiretaps are based on necessity, says Silvert. In order to get a
wiretap, law enforcement officers have to prove that all other means
to get information have been exhausted. The defense believes the
government did not show necessity, based on the fact there was an
undercover agent working inside the THC Ministry, as well as the
simple fact the church was operating openly out of a Hilo storefront.
"If those means are available, what is the necessity of getting the
wiretap?" asks Silvert.

Since 1970, marijuana has been classified by the federal government as
a Schedule I drug, on par with heroin, LSD and PCP, drugs with a very
high potential for abuse. "Our argument is that they have failed to do
any review of the classification of marijuana," and, therefore, the
case against Christie should be dismissed, says Silvert. "There will
come a time, just like in all things, where a judge is going to be
more open-minded. Is that going to be now or in the future?"

In light of a grass-roots effort to re-classify marijuana as a far
less dangerous Schedule III drug, Christie himself has optimistically
named his current ordeal "the last marijuana trial."

"If that is," Christie writes, "then Cannabis MUST (his emphasis) be
legal, at least for religious uses in the USA federal system, and in
all the states. That solid information could, would and should make
for 'the last marijuana trial,' like there was a 'last witch hunt'
back a few centuries ago."

Christie claims this information is not hard to verify. In his letter
he goes on to say that some people are working to promote a national
dialogue and debate over the sacramental uses of cannabis in order to
pressure Congress to change the federal law, and "hopefully to dismiss
our indictment."

"Egypt changed its government in 18 days," he writes. "With the power
of the media and instant communication with the Internet, we're
imagineering a national movement to lobby Congress to make the
long-overdue change according to the First Amendment with the
Controlled Substance Act of 1970."

As a pre-trial detainee, Christie writes he is practicing his
spirituality, giving thanks for his blessings and feeling a greater
love for life than he did before his arrest.

In a post script Christie writes that his treatment in the federal
detention facility is "humane, professional and surprisingly

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"The Last Witch Hunt"

Marijuana is classified under federal law as a Schedule I controlled
substance, defined as a drug with a high potential for abuse, with no
accepted medical use in the US and as unsafe for use, even under
medical supervision. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and

Schedule II drugs-drugs still considered to have high abuse potential,
but with accepted medical uses and considered to be safe under medical
supervision. They include cocaine, morphine and methamphetamine.
That's right, federal law currently classifies marijuana as more
dangerous than methamphetamine.

It gets stranger still. THC, the component responsible for marijuana's
"high" (but not all of its therapeutic benefits) is available as a
prescription pill called Marinol. Marinol is classed in Schedule
III-rated as having lower abuse or dependence potential than Schedule
I or II drugs. Indeed, the abuse risks of Schedule III drugs are
considered so modest that your doctor can phone in a prescription.
This is the case even though the American College of Physicians (ACP)
has noted that Marinol's psychoactive effects are "more severe" than

This federal classification-enacted by Congress in 1970 and not based
on any scientific or medical assessment-stands reality on its head. It
ignores the massive evidence of marijuana's medical value and treats
marijuana as more dangerous than pure THC, heroin and meth. This is
simply ludicrous, which is why in February 2008 the ACP stated, ACP
urges review of marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled
substance and its reclassification into a more appropriate schedule,
given the scientific evidence regarding marijuana's safety and
efficiency in some clinical conditions.

- -C.J.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.