Roger Christie: Marijuana Political Prisoner of Conscience

Roger Christie for Mayor 2008

A well-known public figure, Hilo gadfly Rev. Roger Christie ran for mayor of Hawai`i county -- twice -- on a Cannabis-libertarian platform

The priorities and actions of the so-called justice system in the United States today are so misplaced and abused that it has colored the entire process as systemically corrupt.

I was moved and made acutely aware of this in July of 2010 when a familiar figure in the Big Island community was arrested in what the government billed as a huge drug ring. That person was  Roger Christie — along with the “Green 13.”

We all knew Roger was involved with Cannabis. He was a well known activist and he had signs advertising the THC ministry on main street in Hilo for most of the last decade.

I also know Roger fairly well.  I have known him for at least 25 years, and had been to the THC ministry a few times. Roger had even offered me help one time when I ask for it. This was not a huge drug ring as the government claims. It was a small town marijuana dispensary operating openly and serving medical patients and members of the THC ministry—that’s it.

So why did the government spend two years and millions of dollars to arrest a guy they could have walked up the stairs and arrested any day of the week? I am convinced they saw him as a threat to their policy on marijuana. People were not only listening to him—they could see he was right. More on that later, we can now see how important the professional marketing for marijuana businesses is.

Is justice dispensed equally for all in the United States? Of course it isn’t: we all know the banks on Wall Street and the rich are treated differently. We know the prisons are full and most of us know they are full of poor people and most notably people of color. The imbalance is so profound that it is not even disputed by the government or the justice system. They admit it, in fact with little fanfare right now courts are letting people out of prison that are there for crack cocaine crimes because,  after 30 years, they could no longer justify the sentences they had handed out to the predominantly poor minority defendants.

Crack for the most part is just another form of cocaine, the biggest difference between the two being who uses it. Crack is smoked mostly by poor minorities, while powdered cocaine is snorted mostly by whites that are middle class or wealthy. There have been media reports that presidents G.W. Bush and Obama have both used cocaine. While we all have seen stories about movie or rock stars or Wall Street big shots and tycoons that are famous for parties that include cocaine use. Those people rarely go to prison, even if they are arrested, which almost never happens. The people that do go to prison are most often poor and in staggering numbers, minorities. Presidents Bush or Obama didn’t go to prison. When they use drugs (along with their rich friends), it’s called a “mistake” or “poor judgement”. Such indiscretions are not to be considered crimes apparently. No, they went on to be POTUS or to live in their mansions and estates while those not so privileged went to prison for doing pretty much the same thing.

That is what passes for “justice” in America today. The system is devastating for those that are prosecuted under these laws, and quite accommodating to those not really subject to the law at all. The sentencing difference was so unfair at 18 to 1 in the case of crack verses powdered cocaine, that after decades of locking up poor minorities behind these racist laws, Congress finally stepped in. They really had no choice—people were starting to notice. Trouble makers like Roger Christie and L.E.A.P. (law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and others were drawing negative attention to the war on drugs. To put this in perspective, if you were caught with 1 gram of crack cocaine you went to prison, equal to a person that had 18 grams of powdered cocaine.

The United States jails fully 25% of all the people on the entire planet that are in prisons while we only have about 5% of the world’s population. Why? How could the land of the free become the home of the prisons? I believe justice has become a business, it is traded on the stock market with companies like Correction Corp of America, producing a good return for share holders on the backs of the ever growing non-violent offenders. They need the drug laws to put people in prison so they can make a profit, and anyone that threatens that is dangerous to their bottom line.

Prison has become a growth industry, it’s big business and with that comes the lobbyist, political contributions, media campaigns, and money to keep pushing for more and more laws to fill the ever-expanding private prisons. Non-violent drug offenders are easier to manage than violent or dangerous criminals they have become the prisoners of choice for the justice industry. Prisoners in fact have been reduced to a commodity. There is a never-ending supply of people produced/manufactured even by a drug war that is designed to be never-ending. It’s the perfect war—it just keeps getting worse, and more people are using drugs under current policy than ever before, particularly young people. The next generation of prisoners to feed the bottom line of the Wall Street prisons. Prohibition has been the policy in this country going on a hundred years and in that time the problem has gotten a hundred times worse. We have to assume the government knows that—yet here we are.

What many people may not be aware of and the point of this article is there is no justice at all in America for a certain class of our people, non-violent drug offenders. Their fates for the most part are sealed long before they ever receive a trial by a jury of their peers and in fact the vast majority of these “criminals” will never see a jury. How could that be happening in the land of the free, the home of the brave, where justice and liberty for all is the law? We are told we fight wars to free the oppressed people’s around the planet, while at the same time millions of our own people are being oppressed. We are fighting a war right here at home, aptly named  the drug war, it is being waged in large part against people that use cannabis. Our friends, families and neighbors, people like Roger Christie, who is non violent, friendly, and well liked in the community. Ironically the drug war was declared against us by Richard Nixon who may be the most notorious presidents in modern history. A criminal driven from office, forced to resign for his crimes, but of course pardoned by his successor. As is the norm in America the privileged again escaped the punishment the rest of us face for far less serious acts. The largest segment of the population targeted in the war Nixon started against the American people so long ago are people that use cannabis, or what most people now call marijuana.

A name most of Hawaii county knows by now is Roger Christie — a first time marijuana offender with no prior criminal convictions at all.  Yet the courts (our “justice” system) has determined that Christie is so dangerous that “no terms of release would be sufficient to protect the community” from him. He has therefore been denied bail, visitors, or the means to mount any kind of reasonable defense for a marijuana crime where not a single victim has been named.

A comparison to a few recent cases easily exposes the political nature of holding Christie without the same protections and rights afforded even the most dangerous defendants in our community.

In December, 2011, Waylen Keone Carenio Jr. had been involved in a violent fight where a man was killed. He was released on bail even though he had a prior criminal record. He is now accused on a whole new list of violent felonies committed while free on bail — yet the courts have set bail for him again. If he has resources he will be released — again. Even this multiple violent offender is allowed to have visitors that provide him comfort, but most importantly the ability to prepare the best possible defense as provided for by our system. Compare that to Roger Christie a first time non violent marijuana defendant who is not allowed to have any visitors. How could anyone explain that, they can not of course as there is no legitimate purpose served in this. They are afraid of what Roger has to say so they have effectively bound and gagged him with out a trial at all.

We know the names of the victims in Mr. Carenio’s cases–and in the case of Konrad Mossman, who also took a life, but who is free after serving just 20 weekends in jail for the death of Tim Sing, run down in the dead of night by Mossman who after drinking at a County of Hawaii party left him there on the side of the road to die. Again compare that to Roger Christie who has already spent over a year and a half in prison held without bail, trial, or any conviction of any kind. How can our so – called justice system rationalize this disparity, it makes no sense at all to most of us?

Question: Was he ever accused of killing anyone?
Answer: No.

Question: Was he ever accused of assault or intimidation or any violent thing at all?
Answer: Nope.

In Roger Christie’s case, there is no allegation of violence or mayhem, and certainly no victim has ever been named. (Unless you count Christie himself as the victim of a broken legal system.)

But surely he must have threatened someone? After all, isn’t he “too dangerous to release”? The courts have said so five times.

In fact, Christie is dangerous — but to who? He is certainly no danger to this community–but he is a real and present danger to the government’s coveted policy of marijuana prohibition. The one feeding the bottom lines of the for profit Wall Street prisons. This is the policy–based on lies–that Roger Christie was exposing. He threatened a policy that the government wants–even though it does not meet its own definition of what constitutes a Schedule 1 drug. It is a policy that by every measure of its stated goals is a total and complete failure.

Roger Christie was instrumental in organizing and getting passed the Lowest Law enforcement Priority for Cannabis Ordinance in Hawaii county. Not coincidentally, shortly after the LLEPC passed in Hawaii County, the federal government began its 2 year investigation. The timing is significant in the bigger picture to help us understand what this is really about. Roger helped turn public opinion against the government’s failed and destructive marijuana policies. And that is why he is in prison without bail: he is a political prisoner , the government is punishing Roger selectively for being effective, for telling the truth, and for helping turn public opinion against cannabis prohibition.   The government has so perverted the justice system in this country that they can and do simply lock up political troublemakers—particularly those that are effective in influencing public opinion—like Roger Christie.

Something is very wrong with a justice system that prioritizes the suppression of people that threaten their policies over protecting the community from violent defendants.


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