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Christie likely to be released early

The Hilo marijuana minister sentenced to five years in prison Monday has a book in the works, his wife said Tuesday.

Share Christie said Roger Christie has been writing while incarcerated for almost four years in the Federal Detention Center. She described the book as part history of cannabis and part memoir.

“It’s on the cutting edge, as always. He’s always on the cutting edge of doing things before they’re thought about,” she said. “He’s got a whole different angle, what he’s been writing about.”

Share Christie also was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court to 27 months in prison for her role in the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, known as the THC Ministry.

She’s been free on bond and can remain so while she appeals her sentence, but her husband was jailed without bail — a federal magistrate called him “a danger to the community” — since a July 8, 2010, raid on their downtown Hilo ministry.

The Christies maintain cannabis is a holy sacrament, while prosecutors called their church a front for marijuana distribution.

Thomas Otake, Roger Christie’s attorney, said his client will likely be out of federal lockup in a matter of weeks instead of months, because of good time, and that decision will be up to the Bureau of Prisons, not the court.

“If they feel his behavior in prison warrants it, they can knock off 15 percent,” Otake said. “So, if you take 60 months, 85 percent of that is 51 months. And then once you get to the 51 months, it’s also conceivable the Bureau of Prisons could release someone six months early to a halfway house here in Honolulu.

“He obviously is going to return to the Big Island as soon as he can.”

Otake said under those circumstances, Christie would have to serve 45 months, and he’s been incarcerated almost 44 months.

Roger Christie will also have to find a job or schooling while on four years of supervised release, the federal equivalent of probation. Share Christie is hoping her husband will work on the gubernatorial campaign of Jeff Davis, a Libertarian.

Otake said U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi said Christie could return to his ministerial chores under court supervision.

“The ministry did more than just him using marijuana,” Otake said. “There was a lot of advocacy. There was a lot of counseling. And he would do weddings and funerals. Things that a typical ministry would do. He’s allowed to do all that. He just can’t use or distribute cannabis while he’s on court supervision.”

Asked if her husband would resume his ministry, Share Christie replied, “That’s just too far away; I can’t tell you that.”

The prosecution of the Christies and others in the THC Ministry — known collectively as the “Green 14” — made Roger Christie a cause célèbre for marijuana decriminalization and legalization.

“In this day and age, when 19 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and two have legalized it for recreational use, it seems absurd that the federal government still has a 5-year mandatory minimum for a charge like this, and that Roger would have to do five years and Share would have to do 27 months,” Otake said.

“I think the problem is these federal mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines are antiquated and were designed and developed during a time period when a lot of falsehoods about the dangerousness about marijuana prevailed. Since then, there’s been tons of research that shows it’s safe. That’s why many states have legalized it in some way, shape or form.”

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, along with heroin and LSD. Hawaii passed a medical marijuana law in 2000, but there’s still no legal way for so-called “blue card” holders to acquire pot except to grow it themselves in limited quantities.

“You know it’s a farce. Who would have thought that we would’ve gone 14 years without a dispensary,” Share Christie said.

The Christies took a plea deal that allowed them to appeal their sentences after Kobayashi denied their request to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as part of their trial defense.

“What the court ruled is that we could not present that defense to the jury and we believe that was erroneous for several reasons. And that’s one of our issues on appeal,” Otake said. “… We’re looking forward to the appeal, and the good news is that Share gets to stay out pending the appeal. And we think that we have some very good issues and we’re positive about our chances on appeal.”

Still facing the possibility of prison, Share Christie takes a different view.

“An appeal could take years, but who knows, it’s always about erasing the time,” she said. “For me to go to prison would be so cruel. Roger would get out and I would go in. I already feel like I have gone in. I have to think about finding work or going back to school for my probation. Even though I just got my farm ready for harvesting, and I worked really hard on it, … it doesn’t matter.”

In numerous dispatches from his jail cell, Roger Christie has written: “Please show us the blessings in this situation … and hurry!” As Share Christie noted, one of those blessings could be a book tour.

“My husband is the most optimistic human being you’ll ever find, so he just put a blessing on it and that’s the way he’s going.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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