By Barbara Fahs
As of September 1, Roger Christie has 74 more days to spend at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. He’ll have been without his freedom for 1,589 days.
After being arrested on July 8, 2010 for “conspiracy to distribute marijuana” and other charges, Mr. Christie, who is an ordained minister and the leader/founder of The Hawai’i Cannabis (THC) Ministry, was taken from his home in Hilo, Hawai’i to the prison on the island of O’ahu. He’s never been offered bail and has never had a trial, yet he remains incarcerated.
He and his wife Share, along with most of the 12 others who supported the Ministry in providing Cannabis to medical marijuana patients, have entered plea bargains. Roger was sentenced to five years, with time served counting towards that time. He was scheduled to be released to a halfway house in May 2014, but that has not yet happened and no answers as to why are forthcoming. November 14 is his “expiration of sentence” date. I will report on the status of his case frequently, counting down the number of days remaining until that important date in November.
Many consider Roger to be a political prisoner. He has never been convicted of a crime before and his “crime” is a nonviolent one. The basis of his ministry is use of Cannabis as a sacrament and he “believes that providing marijuana as part of the religious experience at the THC Ministry is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” according to a 2011 article in Honolulu Weekly. But the federal, state and local authorities had a different opinion, and after a raid on March 10, 2010, and an ensuing sting operation, he and his co-defendants were arrested 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.”
After his arrest, he was judged to be a “danger to the community” by three federal judges, whose decisions to continue his incarceration pending trial have been upheld by federal appeals courts. Judge David Ezra said he “couldn’t trust Christie to stay out of trouble while housed in a Honolulu halfway house,” although the court’s own pretrial services division recommended he be released to his home in Hilo. Judge Leslie Kobayashi has since ruled that the Christies are “sincere” and “legitimate” in their beliefs and religious practices. They have four motions on appeal and could eventually win the case.
Roger has been a vocal advocate of legalizing marijuana and implementation of medical marijuana, especially in Hawai’i, and freely admits to providing the sacrament, i.e. marijuana, to his parishioners, “via donations,” as part of his religious beliefs. Hawai’i has had legal medical marijuana since 2000, but allows no dispensaries for patients. The State of Hawai’i even granted him a license to perform weddings as a “Cannabis sacrament” Minister in 2000.
Roger hasn’t been allowed visitors, aside from his court-appointed attorney. He and his wife Share have not seen each other outside of a courtroom for over three years, since their marriage at the prison. He’s allowed 300 phone minutes per month and has access to a monitored email system called CORRLINKS, but he must pay $300 each month for these and other privileges. The Christies’ resources are almost gone and they struggle to keep up with this and other expenses. September 2 their home in Hilo gets officially confiscated by the government. They continue to say that they’re OK and their blessings far exceed their challenges.
As Roger writes in his prolific e-mail messages to friends and supporters, “tick-tock-tick-tock.” The countdown is in progress.