October 28, 2011
Florence T. Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney
PIKK Federal Bldg.
300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 6100
Honolulu, HI 96850
I am writing you to express my very sincere feelings about the gross injustice which has led to Roger Christie’s lengthy incarceration because of a denial of bail and the possibility that even a plea bargain could lead to many years of future incarceration for him.
Some months ago I wrote the Island Voices piece which is pasted below after my signature. Our most dangerous “drugs,” causing very large numbers of deaths, are alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana doesn’t even come close. I have also pasted, below, a report published by ProCon.org, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing all the relevant and necessary information applicable to highly controversial public issues, such as those surrounding marijuana and prostitution. The report compares the number of deaths reportedly caused or contributed to by marijuana with a wide variety of popular and legal drugs designed to provide some of the same kinds of relief to patients they seek through marijuana use.
You should note that in a study from January 1, 1997 through June 30, 2005 there is no indication that cannabis, by itself, caused any deaths and that in conjunction with other drugs there were only a total of 279 deaths, compared with 11,687 deaths from FDA approved drugs designed to produce some of the same benefits as those claimed for marijuana. See page 4, below.
What these studies and comparisons seem to show, I believe very conclusively, is that the perceived dangers of marijuana have been grossly exaggerated, at least with regard to causing death, and that there is a huge failure of justice and fairness in imposing criminal penalties, including jail and all the other nasty consequences of criminal conviction – such as loss of scholarship aid for students or loss of employment – on those who provide or sell marijuana. Meanwhile, the government licenses and regulates the sales of other substances like liquor, tobacco, and FDA-approved drugs, such as morphine, which have been proved to cause large numbers of deaths.
I understand, of course, that there is a difference between law and justice and that, except for the constitutional requirement of equal protection, there is no explicit legal requirement that the law be fair. Fairness and justice, however, are very important values and, it seems to me, can only be achieved if those who run the criminal justice system undertake to exercise their lawful discretion in ways that enhance human dignity. While the adversary system may sometimes seem to encourage the seeking of the most extreme results, there is no law that says that lawyers cannot and should not exercise discretion to insure that legal results and consequences are not grossly unfair and excessive, whether too lenient or too punitive. In my view, there must always be an unspoken goal which favors human dignity and which encompasses fairness and justice.
I understand that Roger Christie, because he was disallowed bail, has already suffered 14 or so months in jail and may face up to five years in the hoosegow if he accepts a plea bargain. That outcome, in the larger scheme of things, seems to me to be grossly out of wack . . . unfair and unjust, that is, while purveyors of much more dangerous booze and tobacco can suffer no such penalties. It will turn out to be even worse – far worse – if, as well may be the case, Mr. Christie sincerely believes that his religion permits or requires marijuana use.
You should know that I am not a personal acquaintance of Mr. Christie. What I perceive is happening to him, however, seems to me to be so far out of line and unjust — especially since house arrest or other more limited constraints or modalities were available – that I write to you in the hope that you might be able to bring some justice and balance to this situation.
With warmest Aloha,
Professor of Law, Emeritus, and former Dean, The William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii at Manoa; Member, American Law Institute; Board Member: Kokua Council, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and Honolulu Community Media Council; Legal Consultant to the Hawaii Coalition for Health