The founder and director of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, Roger Christie, and 13 of his associates are facing federal marijuana charges.
HONOLULU — The Hawaii U.S. Attorney on Friday outlined grand jury indictments against 14 people in connection with a marijuana case on the Big Island.
The defendants face charges of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess marijuana.
The federal grand jury returned the indictment on June 24, but it remained sealed until Friday.
The feds said this was a huge pot-growing and selling organization masquerading as a religious group. Agents seized about 3 thousand plants with a street value of nearly $5 million.
Federal prosecutors said Roger Christie, 61, was the leader of a marijuana operation based in the Hilo offices of the THC Ministry. THC is the abbreviation for the active ingredient in marijuana.
Christie claimed he had a religious right to grow and distribute marijuana.
“This was a large-scale business,” said Florence Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney for Hawaii.
The feds tapped three of Christie’s phone lines, including his cellular phone during the two-year investigation.
Federal officials believe this bust will have a huge impact on the state’s marijuana supply.
“During this investigation, there was approximately 3,000 marijuana plants seized, nine weapons, 33 pounds of processed marijuana, approximately $30,000 in cash and as we stated before four real properties,” said Robin Dinlocker with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to court documents, which were unsealed Monday, the defendants conspired to manufacture, distribute and posess with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants.
And that the alleged ringleader is defendant Roger Christie.
“He was operating his marijuana trafficking operation out of the the ministry,” said United States Attorney Florence Nakakuni.
Christie claims a state license to be a wedding minister is his license to provide the drug.
“There is a state medical marijuana law, there is no law that protects his allegations of using marijuana religiously,” said Nakakuni.
THC Ministry boasts it has more than 60,000 members.
Ministry members could get marijuana for a suggested donation of $400 per ounce.
The leader of the group has openly said cannabis is a religion for him and that he’s proud to spread what he calls the sacrament. How he did it, though, appears to have run afoul of federal authorities.
Roger Christie of Hilo speaks openly about what he calls his religion — his THC ministry, and of the wealth that has flowed from it.
“The nickname for it is ganja-nomics,” he says on web videos he made promoting his services, “the natural economy that happens when you have freedom and cannabis together.”
For donations of varying amounts The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry based issues a “Religious Use of Marijuana” ID card, ordainment, legal defense kits, and what the founder calls the sacrament — marijuana
“We use cannabis religiously, and you can too,” Christie says. “Raise the level of acceptance for having the blessings of cannabis in our life. I know you want it. I wanted it, I was hungry for it. I got it.”
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered [Roger] Christie; Sherryanne L. St. Cyr, 58; Richard Bruce Turpen, 59; Wesley Mark Sudbury, 32; Donald James Gibson, 40; John DeBaptist Bouey III, 51; Michael Shapiro, 61; and Aaron George Zeeman, 42, to remain in custody until next week when a federal magistrate determines whether to release them on bail pending trial.
Seabright ordered Susanne Lenore Friend, 46; Timothy M. Mann, 58; Roland Gregory Ignacio, 49; Perry Emilio Policicchio, 50; Victoria C. Fiore, 28; and Jessica R. Walsh, 32, released on $25,000 unsecured signature bond.
Christie has maintained that he is a minister who administers marijuana as part of sacrament.
“There is no law that protects his allegations of using marijuana religiously,” [U.S. Attorney Florence] Nakakuni said.
However, Hawaii’s medical marijuana law does allow persons, certified by a physician, to possess up to a certain amount to treat a debilitating condition.
“Irrespective of state laws, it is DEA’s job to enforce federal drug law violations, and that is what was accomplished in this investigation,” said Robin Dinlocker, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Hawaii.