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Pot advocate’s trial put off again

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Yet another delay in the prosecution of Roger Christie will keep the Hawaii cannabis advocate jailed without bail for well over three years before a jury trial is held in the case.

A federal marijuana trial for Christie, who has been held without bail since July 2010, has been postponed from next month to October.

The delay was triggered by a request from Christie’s lawyer for more time to respond to a prosecution move to keep the religious freedom defense from being used in the trial.

The postponement means 63-year-old Christie, who headed The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry in Hilo, will stay behind bars an additional three months despite numerous attempts to be released pending trial. The ministry is now defunct.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Koba­ya­shi reset a trial date last week from July 23 to Oct. 8 after Christie’s lawyer, Thomas Otake, asked for additional time to reply to a 119-page brief filed by federal prosecutors last month.

Otake wants Koba­ya­shi to permit him to raise the defense that Christie should be acquitted of marijuana trafficking charges under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Kawa­hara responded in his massive legal brief that the defense doesn’t apply in the case.

Kobayashi gave Otake more time to respond, but that meant the hearing on the defense request scheduled for this week had to be postponed until July 29.

Because of scheduling problems, Oct. 8 is the earliest Koba­ya­shi can preside over what is expected to be a trial of three to four weeks.

"How the judge will rule on our religious-defense motion is extremely critical to our case, and we wanted the time necessary to respond to the government’s 119-page opposition," Otake said last week.

The trial delay is the latest for Christie, who has become an icon for supporters who say he has been unfairly held and targeted because of his marijuana advocacy.

He was one of 14 indicted by the federal grand jury on marijuana trafficking charges after a two-year investigation that included wiretaps on his home and THC Ministry office telephones and his cellphone. The wiretaps produced about 12,000 recorded calls.

Christie and the others were arrested in July 2010. He was the only defendant detained without bail.

He sought release on bail seven times but was turned down by federal judges here and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They all agreed with prosecutors that he poses an unspecified danger to the community if released.

Christie is joined by his wife, Sherryanne, also a defendant, in the request to raise the religious defense.

The federal law is aimed at protecting a person’s free exercise of religion from government interference.

The Christies maintain that being prosecuted interferes with their sincere beliefs that marijuana is an integral part of their religion.

"Sacramental use of cannabis opens the mind, frees the soul and releases the body to commune with God and balance itself," Roger Christie said in a sworn statement supporting the defense request.

In opposition, Kawa­hara argued that the Christies’ views about marijuana do not constitute religious beliefs.

"Rather, it was merely a personal philosophy and way of life for the purpose of providing ‘cover’ for their secular marijuana trafficking activities," he said.

In the wiretapped phone calls, the Christies indicated that they had about 50 to 70 customers a day, sold about a half-pound of marijuana daily and made a profit of about $1,000 for each half-pound, Kawa­hara said.

Otake said they haven’t decided whether his client will testify at the hearing, which likely will include witnesses from the defense and prosecution. The hearing is scheduled for two days.

Christie, meanwhile, remains at the Federal Detention Center here.

"He’s still very positive and looking foward to his day in court," Otake said.

Six defendants have pleaded guilty to marijuana charges and are awaiting sentencing. The other defendants are scheduled to be tried with the Christies.

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