Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Sixty-four-year old Roger Christie, founder of the Hawai’i Cannabis THC Ministry, has outrageously been held in prison for three years while he is awaiting trial. Mr. Christie was arrested with 13 others, known as the Green 14, but he is the only one of the 14 that has been held without bail. Such treatment is disgraceful and better suited for a mass murderer than someone cultivating and providing cannabis. Even if the government is able to fully make its case, that Mr. Christie’s ministry was really just a front to sell cannabis, his three-year imprisonment pending his trial amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in my opinion. Soon, Mr. Christie will have his day in court and his case may just be a landmark First Amendment trial regarding freedom of religion.
From The New York Times:
On July 29, Mr. Christie’s lawyer will argue in Hawaii federal court that his client should be allowed to present a religious-freedom defense at the eventual criminal trial. He will base his argument on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993, which requires the government to show a “compelling interest” whenever it “substantially burdens” a religious practice. In 2006, the Supreme Court relied on the act to permit a New Mexico church to use the hallucinogen hoasca, or ayahuasca, for sacramental purposes.
“The difference is that peyote and hoasca have little or no recreational market, and that is not likely to change because they make you sick before they make you high,” Douglas Laycock, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Virginia, wrote in an e-mail in explaining why a court would be unlikely to approve of the church’s practice. “Marijuana has a huge recreational market. Diversion from religious to recreational uses, and false claims of religious use, would be major problems.”
Mr. Christie is hoping that now, as many state marijuana laws are liberalized, federal courts may allow him to argue for the sacramental needs of his ministry, where until his arrest he worked full time. First, he must convince a federal judge that his religion — or one of his religions — is not just a form of personal spirituality concocted to get stoned legally.
In my opinion, one’s personal religious use of cannabis should outweigh the government’s supposed interest to keep cannabis out of the recreational market. Cannabis is certainly less psychoactive than peyote and ayahuasca and cannot cause a lethal overdose. Further, cannabis is readily available in states with harsh cannabis laws on the books, let alone in the 18 states (and our nation’s capitol) where cannabis is available medically or the two states that have already legalized adult use. And more states are poised to approve medical laws and full legalization in the near future.
While the stereotypes of cannabis users make it easy to claim that religious use of cannabis is just a smokescreen (sorry, pun intended), it seems to me that it only makes sense that cannabis would be thought of as a sacred plant throughout human history. The cannabis plant has so many uses and helps so many ailments, early humans very likely believed that a higher power brought this plant to them.
Of course, religious use or not, it is criminal to hold a nonviolent person charged with an nonviolent crime in prison while rapists and murderers are provided bail. Hopefully, Mr. Christie’s ordeal will soon be over and he will be free to use cannabis as he sees fit. Even better, his case may provide an opportunity for those with a legitimate religious use, be it a THC Ministry or Rastafarians, to avoid criminal penalties for using a nontoxic plant that helps them feel closer to their god, creator or higher power. Regardless of how this case goes, cannabis prohibition is crumbling and we will soon look back at Mr. Christie’s treatment, and the treatment of everyone locked in cages for cannabis, as a barbaric era that our nation should be ashamed of.