I met Roger Christie at a hemp festival on Maui about 10 years ago, and he offered to get me high.

Not at the festival, mind you, which was in Kihei. Roger invited me to give him a buzz — whoops! I mean a phone call — the next time I was in Hilo, where he ran his pot ministry.

I never took Roger up on his offer, and while part of me wishes that I had, another part of me has read and reported on the court documents that detailed law enforcement’s tapping of his telephones. I’m sure my employers would not have been happy to see my name visiting Roger to receive a little “sacrament.”

Yep, I smoked marijuana. Like Barack Obama, I inhaled frequently — “That was the point,” as the president has explained.

I don’t anymore; it made me too paranoid. But I still know lots of folks who do smoke pot … and so do you.

Now that Roger has pleaded guilty to trafficking marijuana, I think it’s high time — damn! did it again — to legalize marijuana in the Aloha State.

There are many reasons. For example, Hawaii grows really good marijuana, certainly as good if not better than the pot grown in Washington and Colorado, which last year became the first states to decriminalize the wacky weed.

The U.S. Department of Justice decided it wouldn’t bother cracking down on users in the Evergreen State (get it? “ever green”” hee-hee … OK, I’ll stop with the Cheech and Chong routine) and the Centennial State, where John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” is practically the state anthem.

Instead, let’s tax pot sales and regulate use. We can use a portion of the revenue to fund treatment centers and seriously start paying off the state’s growing unfunded liability for health and pension benefits. I’m sure the HGEA would go for that.

We could also start emptying our prisons of people serving time for possessing pot. It’s unclear exactly how many of our inmates are incarcerated for getting busted with a stash, but Kat Brady, coordinator of Hawaii’s Community Alliance on Prisons, says our correctional facilities “are bursting with low-level drug offenders,” arrests are climbing and it’s costing the state $24,600 a day to enforce marijuana laws.

Growing Support

I’m not sure I buy Roger Christie’s argument that his right to smoke pot in his church is covered under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. My understanding of the federal law is that it was designed specifically for Native American groups and their close association with the land.

But I do know there have been recent, notable efforts to change Hawaii’s marijuana laws, and they include Christie’s advocacy in 2008 for a Hawaii County ordinance that made cannabis the “lowest priority” for police and prosecutors.

Among other things, the law means that the Big Island can no longer accept federal money for marijuana eradication, better known as the “Green Harvest” operations. Helicopters scour the landscape, descend into pot fields, pull all the plants (and later burn them, presumably down wind) and arrest the growers. It’s been going on since the 1970s, and it’s insane.

Fortunately, more sensible actions have developed in recent years.

Hawaii is one of 20 states along with the District of Columbia that have made legal the use of medical marijuana, although the program has been imperfect. This year, however, the Hawaii Legislature took a major step in recognizing that med pot is about health needs and not law enforcement when it transferred control of the state’s program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health.

The law, which takes effect in January 2015, also increases “adequate supply” of pot plants — Hawaii does not have the medical cannabis dispensaries available in states like California — and allows a patient to have up to four ounces of usable marijuana at any given time. It also requires patients to get prescriptions from their primary care physician, in order to crack down on “fly-by-night” doctors blamed for abuse of the program.

Also this year, the state Senate moved to decriminalize having small amounts of marijuana. The measure stalled in the state House of Representatives, but the latest draft calls for making possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a $1,000 fine (an amount 10 times more than in the bill’s original Senate draft). The bill technically remains alive for the 2014 session.

And, several state senators pushed nonbinding resolutions to ask President Obama to initiate a federal investigation into the Christie case — they are concerned his constitutional rights were violated — and to allow Christie to remain free on bail while his case moved through the courts. Senate Judiciary and Labor Chair Clayton Hee killed the measures, though his committee also passed the decriminalization bill.

Harvest the Green

Christie has been denied bail because the courts consider him a danger to the community. Maybe so, but our courts have shown a double-standard when it comes to drug possession.

While Christie has been held for more than three years at the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu International Airport, a federal judge in 2011 released on bail a Honolulu police captain found with more than a half pound of methamphetamine and other drug-dealing paraphernalia in his home.

As evidenced by voters in Washington and Colorado, public views on marijuana are evolving. That may not yet be the case here at home; a 2012 Civil Beat poll showed that voters were nearly 2-to-1 opposed to legalizing possession of small amounts.

And we should not ignore reports that marijuana use can be harmful. Some warn that pot’s potency or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels have increased dramatically. Marijuana may not deserve being ranked with other Schedule I drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy, Quaaludes, peyote and LSD, but, along with legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine, abuse is possible.

But drugs are also big business. It’s no surprise that the top lobbyist in Hawaii is Altria Client Services, which advocates for tobacco and alcohol interests. According to the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, Altria spent $1.1 million from 2006 through 2012 to influence legislation here, twice as much as the next big spender, Kamehameha Schools.

Tobacco and booze are legal, of course. Imagine the money that might flow to the islands if we legalize buds. Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s New Day Plan for Hawaii calls for an “agricultural renaissance”; maybe it’s time to move beyond Rainbow papayas and molasses.

Which brings me back to that hemp fest in Kihei where I met Roger Christie. The star of the show was state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, the Kailua-Kaneohe Bay Republican who has tirelessly advocated for hemp cultivation.

At the time, the state actually had a little experimental hemp farm going in Wahiawa, albeit one protected by a high fence and other security measures. The state was testing whether there might be something useful about the part of the cannabis plant that won’t get you high.

Thielen is still at it. This year she pushed a House bill to authorize the College of Tropical Agriculture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to set up a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop pilot program.

“Across the country, in nearly two dozen states — including Colorado, Washington, Kentucky, California, Minnesota, and Illinois — the drive to re-legalize hemp cultivation is gaining support,” Thielen wrote in a Civil Beat Community Voice column. “Industrial hemp is tied to no particular ideology; its supporters range from the liberal (Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon) to the conservative (Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky). This ability to leap across political barriers shows the common-sense appeal of hemp cultivation.”

That bill remains alive for 2014, too. Wouldn’t it be ironic — and worthwhile — if Hawaii passed legislation on hemp and marijuana next session, just as Roger Christie is expected to be released from prison?

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