HILO (AP) - A Big Island cannabis minister can use religion as a defense in part of his federal marijuana distribution case, a U.S. District Court judge in Honolulu ruled.
Roger Christie has been held without bail for nearly three years while he awaits trial on charges of conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana.
U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled that Christie and his wife may rely upon their religious beliefs to counter the element of "intent to distribute" in the charges, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Kawahara filed a motion for the judge to reconsider or clarify the decision. But the judge denied that motion last week, calling it "premature."
Kobayashi on Aug. 27 is scheduled to rule on whether the Christies may present a defense based on federal law that acknowledges the use of hallucinogens as sacraments in certain Native American religions.
"I believe this to be great news, and the ruling is a lot better than I thought it would be," Christie wrote in an email.
He filed a sealed notice last month that he intends to mount an entrapment defense claiming that one or more government officials misled him to believe the conduct he's charged with was legal. He said that in 2000, he applied for and received a state license to perform weddings. He said he specified that he was a "cannabis sacrament" minister.
In a motion, Kawahara questioned whether Christie was told that his manufacturing and distribution activities were permissible.
A hearing on Christie's entrapment motion is scheduled for Sept. 24.
Christie's downtown Hilo ministry and Wainaku apartment were raided by federal and local authorities in 2010. According to court documents, authorities confiscated about 845 grams of processed marijuana and more than $21,000 in cash.
Christie, his wife and 12 others were arrested by federal agents. Seven co-defendants have made plea deals with prosecutors to cooperate with authorities.
His trial is scheduled for Oct. 8.