(Editor’s note: Â A version of this story appeared in the July 14, 2010 edition of the Big Island Weekly.)
The indictment and arrests of 14 people said to be associated with The Hawaii Cannabis (THC) Ministry were met with mixed reactions from those in the marijuana community who believe the first amendment right ensuring freedom of religion extends to marijuana.
While there were 14 people arrested, the public’s focus seems to be largely focused on Roger Christie and his ministry, which boasts, “We use cannabis religiously, and you can too.”
The Rev. Dennis Shields, of The Religion of Jesus Church, ordained Christie as a “cannabis sacrament” minister in June of 2000. Today he views Christie as a “Jimmy Swaggart type,” referring to the former televangelist who was involved in a high-profile 1988 sex scandal, or an Elmer Gantry, the false prophet described in Sinclair Lewis’ 1920s satirical novel.
Is he persuasive enough to make people drink the Kool-Aid? “Near that,” Shields said, referring to the late Jim Jones, founder and leader of the People’s Temple, and the one responsible for more than 900 Temple members perishing in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. “I don’t think he has much of a moral compass,” Shields said of Christie.
“(Christie’s) schmoozey and suave and hits on women,” Shields described, adding his disapproval that Christie uses language he came up with for his own Religion of Jesus Church to sell “sanctuary kits” over the Internet for between $50 to $250. Shields noted the U.S. Postal Service is involved in the federally-led investigation for the fact that sanctuary kits were sold to mainland residents over the Internet.
Shields himself was involved in four years of legal drama regarding the religious use of marijuana. He noted he has been “convicted of my convictions,” spending $25,000 to defend himself for a misdemeanor charge related to nine ounces of “oldey-moldy pot I neglected to throw away.” He ultimately received a suspended nine-year jail sentence and a year of probation for the misdemeanor.
“I feel for those going, ‘Oh my God, this is a fascist state, this is a police state.’ But two wrongs don’t make a right,” Shields said. “On the one hand, the government’s wrong. On the other hand, you cannot hide behind a religion falsely, creating a wrong to correct the other wrong.”
Meanwhile, the Rev. Nancy Harris, of Sacred Truth Mission, is in the throes of being prosecuted in state court for one count of commercial promotion of a detrimental drug and two counts of paraphernalia, and she is using the religious use of marijuana defense.
She has called for Shields and all of those who believe in the religious use of marijuana to “band together, not bicker among ourselves.”
“This is an example of a government machine (prohibition) that has gone berserk, and is mowing down the citizens. Even if cannabis were dangerous, it would have to be very dangerous indeed that we would prioritize its prohibition over our freedoms.”