Roger Christie: ‘Pride went before my fall’
Editor’s note: Marijuana activist and minister Roger Christie is in a halfway house in Honolulu after serving more than four years on a marijuana charge in the Federal Detention Center. His scheduled release date is Nov. 14. Ground rules for the interview were no discussion of the halfway house, FDC or the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Roger Christie has become a cause célèbre in cannabis culture.
The 65-year-old founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry in Hilo believes his arrest with 13 others — including his wife, Share — by local and federal authorities on July 8, 2010, was due to his outspokenness for marijuana legalization.
Christie was denied bail on numerous occasions while awaiting trial and supporters described him as a political prisoner. A federal judge, however, called him “a danger to the community.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Christie said that description of him is “completely untrue and unfair,” but added he’s “100 percent responsible for what happens” in his life.
“Pride went before my fall,” he said. “I could see that I got a little bit cocky; my ego got too big and I was patting myself on the back a little bit too much, there on the oceanfront on beautiful Hilo Bay, you know, with a unique and special license from the state of Hawaii to marry people as a cannabis sacrament minister. I thought I had it made for many years.”
Christie, whose THC Ministry website once proclaimed church members were immune from prosecution on marijuana charges, said he takes “full responsibility” for the arrests and prosecutions of his co-defendants, some of whom, he noted, forfeited their homes to the government — as did Christie and his wife. He added he and Share Christie offered to plead guilty if charges were dropped against the others, but prosecutors refused the offer.
Prior to a March 2010 raid and his subsequent arrest, Christie said local, state and federal authorities treated him with respect and allowed him to operate the ministry prosecutors described as a front for drug distribution “for 12 happy years.”
“So what went wrong?” he mused. “I went wrong and caused this situation to happen. Yes, other people were involved, and I seek to prove that.”
Christie said his role in passing the Peaceful Sky voter initiative making adult personal use of marijuana the “lowest law enforcement priority” in 2008 made him a target for Big Island police because the county ordinance denied them federal marijuana eradication funds. He cited written testimony by Monica Wallach, a Missouri lawyer, on a proposed state senate resolution last year calling on the feds to grant Christie bail.
In her testimony, Wallach referred to an alleged phone conversation with Dana Ishibashi, a federal public defender who initially represented Share Christie in the federal marijuana case.
“It’s just hearsay but I seek to prove that,” Christie said. “That’s an indicator we were selectively and maliciously prosecuted and had our civil rights violated for having helped pass a law that we, the people of the Big Island, voted for in 2008.”
Christie said despite his belief the arrests were political;y motivated, he was “treated with respect” by local, state and federal law enforcers.
“I felt almost happy and proud of their professionalism, the agents involved — although I thought they had made a mistake and would correct their actions once they saw they had made a mistake and we were legitimate and sincere,” he said.
After U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi denied their request to use a religious freedom defense, the Christies made a plea deal that allows them to appeal their convictions.
Christie was sentenced to five years in prison and four years supervised release, the federal equivalent of probation. Share Christie, who married her husband during his incarceration, was sentenced in April to 27 months in prison, but remains free while she appeals her sentence.
“I met with her attorney, Lynn Panagakos, a few days ago, and we agreed that our focus is on overturning our convictions and keeping Share free,” Christie said. “Anything else we get from that is extra, but the main goal of our appeals is to make sure Share doesn’t go to prison, that she stays free for life. And we think that’s absolutely doable. All the court has to be is fair, and we will win.”
Christie is carving out a unique niche while in the halfway house, co-hosting a 5-6 p.m. daily talk show on KGU Radio with Jeff Davis, aka “The Solar Guy,” who is also the Libertarian candidate for governor. The program can be heard online at www.HawaiisTomorrow.com. He said he’s completed about two-thirds of a book on cannabis, which he calls “the biblical tree of life,” and is writing a one-man play he hopes to complete by his release.
During his incarceration, two states, Colorado and Washington — the former is Christie’s birthplace — legalized adult personal use of marijuana. He said he’s “especially proud of the people of Colorado.”
“I ran for mayor of Denver in 1978 on a platform for legalizing marijuana,” he said. “Thirty-six years later, the people of Colorado and we the people of the USA are starting to demonstrate a greater understanding of the healing qualities of cannabis. … And the more people understand that, we are going to have a polar shift in values of cannabis going from illegal to essential.”
Christie said his mental and spiritual health are fine but he’s experienced “some physical and dental health issues” while incarcerated. Twenty-three states, including Hawaii, and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, but despite his insistence cannabis has healing qualities and “is essential to health, happiness and well-being,” he’s for full legalization, not medical marijuana laws.
“I’m not a medical marijuana patient and I don’t want to be one. And I don’t want other people to be one,” Christie said. “I want them to be immediately healthy and happy and not be a patient.”
He said he and his wife “have a goal as an activist couple of having the last marijuana trial on Earth.”
“We’re hoping that in the next year … our convictions are overturned, and the knowledge, the understanding of cannabis as the biblical tree of life, will be so broad and so universal that no one else will be arrested or investigated or convicted for using cannabis,” Christie said.
“There was a last witch trial, hundreds of years ago. Those happened in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and reached the (American colonies). … There was a last witch trial. And it ended from that day on, thank God.
“And we hope to be that model for the last marijuana trial.”
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.
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