Sunday | July 24, 2016
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Attorney says Hilo pot minister could be released soon

HILO — The founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry could be released within months after being jailed for more than three years in a federal marijuana distribution case, his attorney said.

Roger Christie, who has openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use, is expected to withdraw his not guilty plea Friday in a deal with prosecutors. Defense attorney Thomas Otake declined to provide specifics of the deal but said if all goes well at the hearing, Christie could be freed in about six months.

Christie maintains he distributed pot for religious reasons, Otake said in an email.

“He has never denied distributing cannabis for religious purposes, and will admit to such conduct as part of his plea agreement,” Otake wrote. “However, in his appeal Rev. Christie will continue to assert his belief that such activities were permissible and legal.”

“Get a grip; we are zero ‘frightened,’” Christie wrote in an email to Stephens Media Hawaii. His wife also is scheduled to change her plea.

A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a 2010 raid of the ministry. Most of the others have pleaded guilty to marijuana charges and await sentencing.

Marijuana advocates nationwide have complained that holding Christie in federal detention without bail is unfair.

The Christies wanted to use their religious beliefs as a defense. U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled that the Christies “may” rely upon their religious beliefs. But Kobayashi earlier this month denied their motion to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which allows some Native American religions to use certain hallucinogens as sacraments.

The trial was scheduled to begin next month.

Otake said the judge’s rulings affected Christie’s right to a fair trial.

“Instead of proceeding to trial disadvantaged by these rulings, Rev. Christie has decided the best course of action for his ministry, his cause, and his family at this time is to enter into a conditional plea agreement,” he wrote. “The plea agreement allows him to appeal these adverse rulings to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court if necessary.”