Feds raid Hawaii cannabis ministry
By John Burnett
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Federal agents raided the downtown Hilo sanctuary of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry Wednesday morning, assisted by local police.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Muehleck said that no one had yet been arrested or charged in connection with the raid. Reached shortly before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, he declined to provide other details and would not say whether THC Ministry director and founder Roger Christie had been detained.
"There's gonna be no comment from our office talking about anything that's occurred in Hilo or on the Island of Hawaii at this point," said Muehleck.
Local police had directed inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's office in Honolulu.
The door to the ministry's upstairs space at 94 Kamehameha Ave. was locked at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday. A sign next to the door said that the ministry is open from 2-5 p.m. weekdays.
Jared Fischer, 29, of Hilo, who was outside the ministry's entrance, said it was unusual for the door to be locked during posted business hours.
"I'm totally upset," said Fischer, who said he's a church member and uses cannabis as a sacrament. He said he tried calling the ministry's phone and was surprised that nobody answered.
He said he'd heard "the (Drug Enforcement Administration) busted Roger Christie." Fischer said that he was not at THC Ministry headquarters at the time, but heard "it happened sometime before noon."
A call to THC Ministry's cell phone triggered a message that said that Christie's voice mail was full and could not take messages. Nor did Christie respond to a message left on a land line in time for this story.
"I guess that'll put an end to the dispensary," said the manager of a neighboring business, who asked not to be identified. "I'm all for live-and-let-live ... but I think that the presence of (THC Ministry) just as you enter downtown Hilo sends the wrong message to people who come here."
The businessman said he saw local police arrive at about 10 a.m. and federal authorities about an hour later.
He said there is usually a line "like clockwork" at 2 p.m. when the ministry's door opens.
The Web site imedicalcannabis.org lists THC Ministry as a "collective" or "cooperative" dispensary of medical marijuana. The Web site indicates that "flowers" — another name for the bud of the female marijuana plant — are offered, with on-site medicating available, and cash payment accepted.
While Hawaii has a law allowing the use of medical marijuana, the sale of marijuana is illegal under any circumstances and dispensaries are not allowed, although the state Senate has passed and sent to the House a bill to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure was introduced by Sens. Will Espero, Robert Bunda, J. Kalani English, Brickwood Galuteria and Josh Green, all Democrats. Green is a physician from Kona.
The bill, if passed, would levy a $30 per ounce tax on medical marijuana, and would bring in an estimated $50 million yearly to depleted state coffers. It's scheduled for a hearing before the House Health and Public Safety committees at 10:45 a.m. today in House conference room 209 at the state Capitol Building in Honolulu.
THC Ministry's Web site makes no mention of its downtown Hilo sanctuary being a medical marijuana dispensary. The site proclaims: "Cultivation and enjoyment of Cannabis sacrament is a fundamental human right provided by God and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution." The site further states: "We provide a legitimate religious 'defense to prosecution' for sincere practitioners over 21 years old."
The site lists the Hilo sanctuary as the "home ministry," with branches in Los Angeles, Bozeman, Mont., and Boulder, Colo.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday night that a Colorado man who claims membership in THC Ministry was convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana, plus possessing drug paraphernalia and driving an unregistered vehicle.
Trevor Douglas of Avon, Colo., argued that he shouldn't be convicted on drug charges because marijuana serves the same role in his religion as communion wine in Christianity. The judge didn't buy it, and he was fined $450 plus court costs and ordered to serve 15 hours of community service.
Clear Creek County Judge Rachel J. Olguin-Fresquez said that Douglas's beliefs don't rise to the level of religion.
Christie wrote a letter to Olguin-Fresquez, dated Monday, confirming that Douglas is "a member in good standing of the THC Ministry." Christie wrote that Douglas "is searching for higher meaning in his life and has deep questions about his place in the Universe and his quest for God. The plant Cannabis helps him further his knowledge and his quest for spiritual attainment."
It's not known if Douglas' conviction in Colorado is connected with the Hilo raid of THC Ministry headquarters.
Christie has also sponsored one-day seminars called "cannabis college" in a street level space in the Moses Building, most recently last Saturday. "Your $100 donation will include classes, great teachers and a catered hemp seed lunch," the ministry Web site said.
An announcement sent to the Tribune-Herald read, in part: "Some of the best cannabis growers on the Big Island will demonstrate their techniques for growing the highest quality medicine and sacrament. The classes will include lighting, cloning, fertilizing, harvesting, and curing."
Christie is a director of the Peaceful Sky Alliance, a marijuana advocacy group that wrote a ballot initiative passed into law by 53 percent of Big Island voters in November, making adult personal use of marijuana on private property the "lowest law-enforcement priority."