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Marijuana Minister or just Pot Head?

Does religious freedom include the right to use marijuana if it is part of the tenets of your faith? Does the U.S. government have the right to enforce a law that some say goes against their First Amendment rights? Or, is it possible that someone who wanted to use marijuana just put together a “church” of sorts to get around the law?

These are difficult questions being faced right now in Hawaii as a July 1010 drug bust led to the arrest of 14 people accused of growing and selling marijuana.

“The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry” or THC ministry, as it is called, is led by Roger Christie of Hilo, Hawaii. He speaks very openly about what he calls his religion and defends his actions. "The nickname for it is ganja-nomics,” he says on promotional web videos. It is “the natural economy that happens when you have freedom and cannabis together."

According to KHON2, he claims that his state license to perform weddings gives him license to provide the drug. THC issues a “Religious Use of Marijuana” ID card, ordainment, legal defense kits, and what Roger Christie calls the sacrament – marijuana. "We use cannabis religiously, and you can too," Christie says. “Raise the level of acceptance for having the blessings of cannabis in our life. I know you want it. I wanted it, I was hungry for it. I got it."
A two-year investigation led to the arrests of the 14 people in various locations from Hilo to Honakaa. Nathan Clark, a resident in the THC building who was not arrested, stated that “The DEA, it’s one of their last hurrahs in their failed drug war, the war against cannabis.”

Other raids related to this group have been made on the East Coast of the US, with a particularly large raid made in Florida two years ago. At that time Roger Christie stated that his religion is a defense against prosecution. "Everyone in the USA is born into the right to cultivate and to use cannabis," he said. “Every state in the United States guarantees religious freedom for each of their citizens, and the federal government does, too.”

Since the demand for cannabis has exceeded the supply, Roger Christie has developed a system where “ministry members,” who now number over 60,000, could grow cannabis at home, for which they would receive a monetary donation. He also guided his followers regarding the Hawaii County law which set low-quantity marijuana busts as a low priority. "There is no more budget for the county police or prosecutors to go after people who are in the misdemeanor amount of cannabis,” Christie claims, “and that's the 24 plants and 24 ounces.”

This is a First Amendment question that will have to be settled in court.

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