|Roger Christie, Hawaii’s “Preacher of Pot”|
64-year-old Hawaii resident Roger Christie has long been a well-known advocate for medical and recreational marijuana use on the Big Island. As a minister at his own church on Hilo – a quaint little joint by the name of THC Ministries – Christie enjoyed a rapidly growing congregation of over 60,000 followers, to many of whom he provided “sacrament” in the form of cannabis.
On July 8th 2010 though, it all came crashing down as a result of an extensive undercover investigation, leading to the arrest and indictment of 14 people associated with THC Ministries, along with Christie and his wife Share.
On Monday of this week, Christie was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison, along with another 4 years of supervised release. For her part, Share received just over two years (27 months) in prison, with a three year supervised release on the tail end.
In September of 2013, Roger Christie plead guilty to charges of “conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, involving 100 or more marijuana plants and two separate tax counts for failure to file federal income tax returns for calendar years 2008 and 2009.”
Gotta pay those taxes, Rog.
At the same time his wife, Share, also pled guilty to “conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, involving 50 or more marijuana plants.”
While the couple’s initial defense was to have Share play coy and pretend that she was an innocent bystander in the operation, assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Kawahara effectively defined her as an integral part of the weed-related day to day business operations of the church.
Their defense shifted, and gained national attention, when the Christie’s attempted to turn the debate strictly into a battle over religious freedoms.
Citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Christie defense team used the opportunity to attempt to educate the court and the record about the relative harmlessness of weed, reminding the court that 19 states have medical marijuana laws on the books, and that Colorado and Washington have legalized the plant recreationally as well, with no ill effects.
Presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi had heard enough, and the hammer came down hard on the Christie’s.
The investigation that took them down spanned the course of two years between 2008 and 2010, and by some estimates may have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, not to mention the threat of compromised public safety due to poorly allocated manpower and resources.
In all, 11 entities stuck their fingers in the bust, including the DEA, the IRS Criminal Division, the Department of Homeland Security, the ATF, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the National Park Service, the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Public Safety, Hawaii PD, and the Honolulu Police Department.
So yeah, it was doubtful that the court would just toss this one out after that colossal waste of time, money, and effort on the part of local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Rivaling the alphabet soup of agencies that took part in the THC Ministries take down is the list of dignified names and organizations who have actually stepped up in defense of Roger Christie and THC Ministries.
Hawaii state senators Russell Ruderman (D-Hawaii Island) and Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head) , along with Will Espero (D-Ewa) have all expressed their support for Christie, and have proposed resolutions aimed at freeing him, at least on bail until he is proven guilty in a court of law.
The Hawaii Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs filed two separate resolutions, unsuccessfully, in 2013 in attempts to get Roger Christie released on bail pending his trial date.
So far, all of them failed, and since getting busted, Roger Christie has already been forced to serve 3 years and 9 months of his 5 year sentence, all without any visitor’s privileges whatsoever.
The good news is, with time served and good behavior, Christie’s attorney Thomas Otake believes that his client could be out of prison in two months.
The bad news is, Christie’s wife, Share, has been patiently waiting at home for her husband’s release, while still dealing with her own legal woes thanks to her involvement with THC Ministries. With no time served so far, she is expected to begin her 27 month sentence just two months from now – right when Roger is hoping to be let out.