Saturday, November 19, 2011
Justice requires that Roger Christie receive more lenient treatment
“We should note that the federal prosecutors were not compelled to deny bail. There is prosecutorial discretion and perhaps the best recent example is the case of Christopher Deedy, a federal agent charged with second degree murder of a local man at a MacDonald’s. Deedy was arrested at the scene and released two days later after posting bond. I think that all would agree that murder is a much more serious crime than selling marijuana.”
by Richard S. Miller, Professor Emeritus, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii
(The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Hawaii or its Law School.)
Roger Christie, 61, has been charged with being the leader of a marijuana operation based in the Hilo offices of the THC Ministry. THC is the abbreviation for the active ingredient in marijuana. Christie was denied bail and has already served more than 14 months in jail. He is now faced with a choice of serving five more years in jail or going to trial, with the possibility of a much longer jail sentence if, as is likely the case, he is found guilty at the trial.
Christie’s principal defense is that he had a religious right to grow and distribute marijuana. So far that defense has been rejected and may not be upheld at trial. Whether it is or not, there is, in my opinion, a gross injustice which led to the denial of bail and the possibility of an extended jail term. We should note that the federal prosecutors were not compelled to deny bail. There is prosecutorial discretion and perhaps the best recent example is the case of Christopher Deedy, a federal agent charged with second degree murder of a local man at a MacDonald’s. Deedy was arrested at the scene and released two days later after posting bond. I think that all would agree that murder is a much more serious crime than selling marijuana.
I am writing you to express my views about the gross injustice which has led to Roger Christie’s terrible situation. It is true that Congress, in its unfortunate stupidity, has included marijuana as a Schedule One drug for which, in its erroneous opinion, there is no legitimate medical use. However, this does not mean that prosecutors, in the interest of justice, cannot exercise their discretion to mitigate the harsh and grossly unfair effect of the drug laws.
It is clear that our most dangerous “drugs,” causing very large numbers of deaths, are alcohol and tobacco, and they are sold legally, except to minors. Marijuana doesn’t even come close. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported: "Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States ..."More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. ... Cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year." (Emphasis added.)
And on alcohol: "According to the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact tool, from 2001-2005, there were approximately 79,000 deaths annually attributable to excessive alcohol use ... the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death for people in the United States each year."
Further, a report published by ProCon.org, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing all the relevant and necessary information applicable to highly controversial public issues, such as those surrounding medical marijuana and prostitution, compares the number of deaths reportedly caused or contributed to by marijuana with a wide variety of popular and legal drugs. These drugs are designed to provide some of the same kinds of relief to patients they seek through marijuana use. In a study from January 1, 1997 through June 30, 2005 there is no indication that marijuana, by itself, caused any deaths and that in conjunction with other drugs there were only a total of 279 deaths, compared with 11,687 deaths from FDA approved drugs designed to produce some of the same benefits as those claimed for marijuana.
Furthermore, there is growing evidence that marijuana can be very effective in treating medical problems, especially pain, without imposing the serious health risks of the currently approved drugs.
What these studies and comparisons seem to show, I believe very conclusively, is that
the perceived dangers of marijuana have been grossly exaggerated, particularly with regard to causing death, and that there is a huge failure of justice and fairness in imposing criminal penalties, including jail and all the other nasty consequences of criminal conviction – such as loss of scholarship aid for students or loss of employment – on those who provide or sell marijuana. Meanwhile, the government licenses and regulates the sales of other substances like liquor, tobacco, and FDA-approved drugs, such as morphine, which have been proved to cause large numbers of deaths.
I understand, of course, that there is a difference between law and justice and that, except for the very important constitutional requirement of equal protection, there is no explicit legal requirement that the law be fair. Further, it is not and should not be up to individuals to decide which laws to obey and which laws to disregard. However, fairness and justice are very important values and, it seems to me, can only be achieved if those who run the criminal justice system undertake to exercise their lawful discretion in ways that enhance human dignity. While the adversary system may sometimes seem to encourage the seeking of the most extreme results, there is no law that says that prosecutors cannot and should not exercise discretion to insure that legal results and consequences are not grossly unfair and excessive, whether too lenient or too punitive. In my view, there must always be an unspoken goal which favors human dignity and which encompasses fairness and justice.
There is a very strong argument that Roger Christie’s situation, because he was disallowed bail, because he has already suffered 14 or so months in jail, and because he may face many more years in the hoosegow -- while purveyors of much more dangerous booze, tobacco, and other drugs can suffer no such penalties – is grossly out of whack. It will turn out to be even worse – far worse – if, as well may be the case, Mr. Christie sincerely believes that his religion permits or requires marijuana use.
I am not a personal acquaintance of Roger Christie. What I perceive is happening to him, however, seems to me to be so far out of line and unjust – especially since house arrest or other more limited constraints or modalities were and are available – that I feel compelled to speak out in the hope that some justice and balance will be brought this situation. If there are concerns that Christie might continue to sell or provide marijuana unlawfully, probation is always available and is the usual device for assuring adherence to the law.
Yes,we are witnessing unequal justice here. Mahalo Professor Miller for telling the truth and exposing the accommodations afforded those protected by the 1%. A person indicted for 2nd degree murder spends few nights
in jail and a person helping sick people obtain medicine is held for 14 months - without bail. Where is the justice?
For anyone interested in learning more about Roger Christie and the history of religious use of Cannabis read this comprehensive look at his life and ministry in Hilo. http://hokulanicheneviere.blogspot.com/2011/01/is-hawaii-cannabis-minister-danger-to.html
Federal prosecutors have been so effective in prosecuting the illegal importing and hiring of illegal aliens that they are now bringing charges against people who spit on the sidewalk and smoke weed. I feel so much safer.
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