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Maui County asked to reform marijuana policies
Group will take petition to voters if Council doesn’t act on resolution

6-07-2005 | Don Gronning | Haleakala Times


Patients Without Time, a private medical marijuana advocacy group, has submitted a resolution to the Maui County Council asking the county to tax and regulate marijuana, lobby the state for its legalization and direct police to place a low priority on enforcing marijuana possession laws.

“We’ve heard back from three council members,” says Brian Murphy, 50, director of Patients Without Time. “Two had positive things to say and one had questions.”

Council member Bob Carroll was the first to contact him, Murphy says, noting it is not surprising that a politician who didn’t plan to run again would be the first to voice support.

Murphy says the resolution was presented to all Council members and the Mayor and filed with the County Clerk on May 18. It was printed on hemp paper, placed in a hemp envelope and included a hemp candy bar.
He says if the Council doesn’t act on the resolution he will put it before voters by initiative. The Maui County Charter allows ordinances to be placed on ballots if 20 percent of the voters in the last mayoral election sign a petition. Murphy says that would require 8,000 signatures.

“We’re not waiting for the Council to decide, we’re starting a voter registration campaign now,” he says.

Murphy’s group has been joined by Big Island marijuana activist Roger Christie, 55. Both Murphy and Christie are veteran marijuana activists. Murphy worked for years in Washington D.C. with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Christie is probably best known for forcing the Hawai‘i County Council to return a $265,000 federal Drug Enforcement Administration grant for helicopter eradication of marijuana in 2000.

Christie noticed the County hadn’t followed a Hawai‘i Island Charter requirement to review all programs for which they receive funding, so he sought to impeach the Council and the Mayor because of that. On the Big Island only 100 signatures are required for impeachment and politicians impeached have to pay their own legal expenses, which was what caused the County to return the money.

Maui County has no Mandatory Program Review in their County Charter, nor is there such a small number required for impeachment.

Chrisitie says part of the Big Island’s Mandatory Program Review asks if there are unintended consequences of taxpayer funded programs.
The increase in methamphamine use is directly related to an effective crackdown on marijuana, says Christie.

“The feds wiped out 90 percent of the marijuana crop in the late 80s in a program called Operation Wipe Out,” he says. Helicopter crews systematically covered searched and destroyed marijuana crops, sometimes with chemicals. “It was predicted at the time that something else would substitute for cannabis,” he says. He believes the replacement was methamphetamine, also known as ice or batu.

Christie says he is part of the “cannabis culture,” so the war on marijuana was a war on him. When he arrived in the islands from the mainland in the late 80s he was appalled at the chemical spraying of marijuana.

“I started speaking out at community meetings and writing letters to the editor,” says Christie. “I was a lone voice at the time, which surprised me because there was a cannabis culture on the Big Island.”

Christie learned that hemp was a form of cannabis in the late 1980s. He discovered it was an alternative form of fiber and food and opened one of the first hemp stores in the nation on the Big Island’s east side in Pahoa.

He saw that hemp could create a broader base of support for marijuana.
“We wanted to have a museum and a wide variety of products to show there was a wide market and that we should have the right to grow it,” he says. “We lit the town up in the nicest way.”

It was then he had his first encounter with law enforcement over importing hemp seed. Hemp seed allowed for import into the U.S. is sterile and can’t be grown. He wanted to buy 500 pounds from a North Dakota firm for a banquet but first wanted a sample, so the company sent him 23 pounds.

Although the seed had been approved by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of Drug Enforcement, Hawai‘i officials seized the package and indicted him and his partners in 1992.

“They caught the 23 pounds but the 500 pounds came through,” he says. He spent the next five years fighting the indictment and in 1997 won and sued the prosecutor. He settled out of court for $75,000, which barely covered his legal bills, he says.

Christie continued to work for marijuana reform. He worked on Hawaii’s medical marijuana law, which was passed in 2000.
He also established The Hawaiian Cannabis Ministry to assert the right to use marijuana as a religious sacrament. He says he is a licensed minister and has performed two dozen weddings over the last couple years. He sells a Cannabis Sanctuary Kit, which outlines ways to claim a religious right to use marijuana, something Hawai‘i courts have not recognized.

Christie claims success with the religious claim, however. He says prosecutors don’t want a precedent-setting case to be won by activists, so they often don’t charge when presented with evidence that a person sincerely uses marijuana as part of their religion.

He claims about 35 such incidents in Hawai‘i.

While Christie hasn’t been successfully prosecuted for marijuana offenses, Murphy was convicted in Virginia for growing marijuana in the 1980s.

“I’m a convicted felon,” he says. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Three were suspended and he served a little over four months on the remaining two years, he says.

Some point to the recent death of a Pukalani woman who drove her car off a 150-foot cliff as a reason marijuana shouldn’t be legalized. Two people died in the wreck and a baby was critically injured. The woman was found to have “near lethal” levels of alcohol and evidence of recent marijuana in her system, according to published reports.

Murphy says people shouldn’t drive while intoxicated on anything. He says it is hypocritical for authorities to highlight marijuana, though.

“I wonder where she got the alcohol,” he says.

Christie says marijuana use does have a downside.
“It’s not a lollipop,” he says. “It’s not the right remedy for everyone in all circumstances.”

But there is no doubt that for many, medical marijuana is an effective use of cannabis, says Murphy, who is a medical marijuana patient himself.
Christie, who is not a medical marijuana patient, agrees.

“Medical marijuana is the most compassionate example of why it should be decriminalized,” he says. But there are other reasons, he maintains. The most obvious is the ice epidemic plaguing the islands. “The damage is so huge, it’s hard to wrap your mind around,” he says.

Christie says the government must end the prohibition. “Tax and regulate is the only is the only way to go,” he says.

Ending prohibition enforcement would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, a recent Harvard report says, while taxation would yield up to $6.2 billion a year.

“There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana,” says famed economist Milton Friedman. “It’s absolutely disgraceful to think of picking up a 22-year-old for smoking pot. More disgraceful is the denial of marijuana for medical purposes.”