HONOLULU — Roger Christie, the Big Island minister imprisoned in Honolulu for years for selling marijuana as “sacrament” to his followers, has been released from Hawaii’s Federal Detention Center to a halfway house.
The 64-year-old preacher, who claims marijuana is a religious sacrament and openly sold cannabis in Hilo as part of his services at his THC Ministry, was sentenced to 60 months in prison and four years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi as a part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Before to his sentencing, Christie was held for three years and nine months in Hawaii’s Federal Detention Center on charges related to growing and distributing marijuana.
Government records show Christie pleaded guilty in September 2013 to “conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, involving 100 or more marijuana plants and two separate tax counts for failure to file federal income tax returns for calendar years 2008 and 2009.”
He was supposed to be released 26 weeks ago, but was incarceration was extended without explanation, his wife, Sherryanne “Share” Christie, said.
Senate Public Safety Chairman Will Espero, D-Ewa, one of a handful of people granted permission to visit the minister at the detention facility, said he was unable to get a reason for the extended stay.
“It’s unfortunate that it took this long to release Roger Christie. The feds could have released him to a halfway house long time ago. At least we are at the end of his days of incarceration,” Espero told Watchdog.org.
Espero said he plans to meet with Roger Christie at the halfway house in the coming days along with state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, who represents the area where the Christies live.
Christie will be at the halfway house until Nov. 14.
Share Christie is facing her own jail sentence — 27 months with three years of supervised release, the maximum time allowed under federal law — for working with her husband in the ministry. She is appealing her case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Court records show she pleaded guilty to “conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, involving 50 or more marijuana plants.”
The case involving the Christies received national attention because the couple used religious freedom as a part of their defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Christies’ case energized marijuana legalization advocates and civil libertarians, who backed several measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use or decriminalize it. Those measures failed largely because of opposition from law enforcement.
The Christies’ attorneys presented witnesses offering evidence that marijuana is harmless and showing how the drug should be legalized throughout the country. They noted 19 states, including Hawaii, have approved marijuana for medical use. Colorado and Washington state, have approved marijuana for recreational use.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Division, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the National Park Service, the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Public Safety, the Hawaii Police Department and the Honolulu Police Department were all involved in the investigation, which included wiretapping and undercover drug buys from the Christies.
Intrigue built around the case because media from around the country were prevented from interviewing Roger Christie in prison. Several requests from Hawaii Reporter to interview Christie in federal prison were either denied or ignored by federal prosecutors and prison officials.
Roger Christie sent a brief email to friends thanking them for their support during his extended incarceration and alerting them of his move to the halfway house.