A two-year investigation led to the arrests of 14 people on the Big Island in connection with an alleged marijuana growing and distribution network.
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.
He claims a state license to be a wedding minister is his license to provide the drug. 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.
Thursday he got arrested, along with more than a dozen others, picked up in various locations from Hilo to Honokaa. Drug enforcement agents, sheriffs, county police, immigrations and customs and even postal agents were part of the bust. Sources say 14 people in all were taken into custody.
They were only after people that they had federal indictments for, said Nathan Clark, who lives in the THC Ministry building called The Moses Building. They left all my things alone. They told me I was free to go.
Clark said he is from Iowa and has been out of jail himself since May 11th.
The DEA, it’s one of their last hurrahs in their failed drug war, the war against cannabis, Clark said.
The suspects were put on a Coast guard c-130 plane bound for Oahu. Authorities declined to comment.
In the past associates of Christie have been arrested as far away as the East Coast. At the time of a high-profile raid in Florida 2 years ago, Christie told KHON2 his religion is a defense against prosecution.
Everyone in the USA is born into the right to cultivate and to use cannabis, he said. Every state in the United States guarantees religious freedom for each of their citizens, and the federal government does, too.
Christie openly guided his followers about a Hawaii County law directing low-priority for low-quantity marijuana busts.
There is no more budget for the county police or prosecutors to go after people who are in the misdemeanor amount of cannabis, Christie claims, and that's the 24 plants and 24 ounces.
And to feed what Christie told KHON2 was a demand that exceeded supply, he developed a system where ministry members could grow pot at home, make a donation of cannabis to the ministry and get a monetary donation in return. Though 14 are now in custody, the ministry boasts more than 60,000 members.
May your garden grow green and plenty, Christie says. We'll see you at harvest time.
The U.S. Attorney's office told KHON2 it plans a press conference about the bust tomorrow.
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Drug bust nets leader of Big Island marijuana ministry