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Big Island marijuana minister set to plead guilty

By Nana Ohkawa
Published On: Sep 25 2013 06:20:00 PM HST

A 63-year-old Big Island man accused of marijuana trafficking is planning to change his plea in a hearing on Friday.

HONOLULU -

After more than three years in prison, the self-proclaimed Big Island marijuana minister Roger Christie could be getting out fairly soon.

Roger Christie founded the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, and it's true to its name, treating marijuana as sacrament. However, the law still treats marijuana as contraband, so the ministry was shut down, Christie is behind bars and both he and his wife are set to plead guilty to distributing marijuana on Friday -- Something Christie's attorney said he's never denied.

"If someone is conducting a religious activity, and it's a legitimate religion, and they are sincere upon their belief, the government cannot infringe upon that activity unless the government has a compelling interest to do so," said Christie's lawyer, Thomas Otake.  

Christie had 284 marijuana plants, and his attorney said the ministry sold pot to members three times a week, selling about a half pound each time. The defense claims Christie's distribution of marijuana through the ministry is protected. However, the district court judge recently ruled that the Christies could not use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as their defense.

"The plea agreement that the parties are finalizing would allow Rev. Christie and his wife to appeal that ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court if necessary, and we completely intend on doing that," said Otake.

Roger Christie has been held without bail since July 2010. His attorney has tried eight times to get him released. After more than three years sitting in prison, with the plea agreement he could get released as soon as six to seven months from now.

"Rev. Christie is as energized and positive and upbeat as ever. He looks forward to taking his fight and cause to the appeals court, where he really believes some good results will come," said Otake.

Christie's trial had been set for next month.

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