Marijuana Archive

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Founder of Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, 13 others facing federal charges

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.

– Source / Full Story: Officials Unveil Big Island Marijuana Case, Keoke Kerr, KITV, July 9, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Watch the video at KITV

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.

– Source / Full Story: New details in the major marijuana bust on the Big Island, Marisa Yamane, KHON, July 9, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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.”

– Source / Full Story: Drug bust nets leader of Big Island marijuana ministry , Gina Mangieri, KHON, July 8, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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.

– Source / Full Story: 14 plead not guilty, 8 held after Big Isle pot arrests, Nelson Darancian, Star Advertiser, July 10, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Hawaii Cannabis Ministry: Religious use of marijuana seen as legal refuge

As spiritual events go, it was an unusual request.

“If there’s anybody here who’s a member of law enforcement, you don’t have to identify yourself, just please leave,” the Rev. Timothy Tipton told a crowd at Denver’s Oriental Theater. “This is a private event.”

Thus went a stop on the Cannabis Church Revival Tour, a three-event swing along the Front Range last week promoting the religious use of marijuana and its potential as a legal defense against pot prosecution. The tour was organized by the Rev. Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, as a way to spread awareness about his church and its affiliates. But Christie said his visit to Colorado had, in part, a more specific purpose: to reach out to people disgruntled by new state medical-marijuana laws they think are too restrictive.

With two laws that place tighter regulations on medical-marijuana patients and dispensaries poised to go into effect next month, some marijuana activists have begun discussing what they believe is an alternate pathway to legally using marijuana — even if courts have generally not agreed with them.

Christie touted religious use of cannabis as a legal refuge for marijuana users of all stripes protected by the First Amendment — as long as they are sincere.

The problem, though, is that courts have often looked askance at that stance.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 ruled that states could pass “generally applicable” laws — including drug laws — that have “incidental” effects on religious practice without violating the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.

Since then, state courts in Hawaii, Alaska and Arizona, as well as at least one federal appellate court, have rejected freedom-of-religion defenses in marijuana cases. Just recently in Clear Creek County, a judge convicted a man in a marijuana possession case after deciding his religious beliefs weren’t sufficient to exempt him from state law.

Christie said the church has had 108 legal victories across the country, but that number includes only cases where charges were dropped or not filed. The church has yet to achieve a jury victory, and Christie said he is pursuing a federal lawsuit in Hawaii he hopes will set a precedent protecting spiritual use of marijuana.

– Source / Full Story: Religious use of pot seen as legal refuge, John Ingold, The Denver Post, June 27, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog