Feds raided Big Island homes as well as The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry
By John Burnett
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
At least six and perhaps as many as a dozen homes were raided Wednesday during a federal drug sweep on the Big Island.
"I know of about six others who were raided," said Roger Christie, founder and director of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, whose downtown Hilo sanctuary and Wainaku residence were searched by federal agents, assisted by local police.
A police log for Wednesday showed 12 report numbers indicating police assistance to outside law enforcement agencies between 4 a.m. and just past 3 p.m. Five incidents occurred in Puna, four in South Hilo, and one each in North Hilo, Hamakua and Ka'u.
A police spokeswoman confirmed that all are related to the federal operation, and referred any further inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's office in Honolulu.
"There have been no arrests and no charges," Deputy U.S. Attorney Tom Muehleck said Thursday afternoon.
Two callers told the Tribune-Herald that their homes were raided. One didn't offer additional information or leave a phone number on a voice message. Another said 25 marijuana seedlings were confiscated from his home and complained about his 93-year-old father being awakened at 6 a.m.
Christie said authorities spent about seven hours searching his home and ministry, starting around 6 a.m. He said the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Inspector and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service were involved in the search, as were local police.
"They treated me with the utmost respect and courtesy," Christie said Wednesday afternoon at THC Ministry headquarters, which showed no outward signs Thursday afternoon of having been searched. Christie said investigators even bought him breakfast.
"They were looking for records and cash — ill-gotten gain — and cannabis, cannabis smoking devices, cannabis growing equipment," Christie said. "The search warrant was pretty broad, and they looked high and low. They looked thoroughly around my place, around both places."
Christie said that authorities confiscated ministry records, holy anointing oil containing cannabis and Christie's cell phone. He said that computer hard drives were copied but the computers were left in operable condition. One marijuana plant was taken from the sanctuary.
"They moved it so carefully that they didn't leave any trace of dirt behind," he said.
"To me, the interesting thing in the search warrant was ... the need to leave anything behind anything that could be construed as legitimate ministry materials. ... Usually, it's just rip and roll," Christie added. "You know, that's a country I want to live in. If they're gonna have to do this, do it with some respect."
The search warrant states: "Other than the things described in the Subject Premises 1 and 2 List, the (Comprehensive Drug Testing) will not communicate any information they learn ... absent further approval of the court."
"That's why the 'no comment,' possibly," Christie said. "But still, we're not supposed to have a secret government."
Christie, 60, a Colorado native, said he didn't know if his letter of support for Trevor Douglas of Colorado, who was fined $450 Tuesday for marijuana possession, was connected with the raid.
"I have to clarify something here," Christie said. "He was not a member until after (his arrest and charge). It was months afterwards. So I don't feel like the THC Ministry 'lost one' although it implies that in the media, that we lost a case. ... I think Trevor did amazingly well carrying the torch for the cause of cannabis liberation, to the New York Times, to the (Associated Press). ... But I guess he mentioned THC Ministry and they latched on to that because we have a branch in Boulder."
Asked if he thought publicity surrounding the case brought on the raid, Christie said: "I think it's cumulative. I've been the subject of an ongoing investigation for a long time, and it's ramping up. We've gotten a lot of publicity in Colorado in the past couple of months.
A downtown Hilo businessman described THC Ministry as a "dispensary" — illegal under current Hawaii law, and a label Christie eschews.
"I operate a ministry that assists medical patients," he said. "So we have cannabis here that people can donate for if they are 'blue card' (medical marijuana permit) holders or members of the ministry."
Christie is a board member of the Peaceful Sky Alliance, a marijuana advocacy group that drafted the initiative passed into law by Big Island voters last November making adult use of marijuana on private property the "lowest law-enforcement priority."
"The Peaceful Sky Alliance however, is not currently and has not been, involved in the activities and operations of the THC Ministry," said Wolf Daniel Braun, Peaceful Sky Alliance's president, in a written statement.
Christie said authorities are not preventing him from reopening the ministry, and said he considers his ministry lawful — cannabis sacrament and all.
"I have a license to marry people," he said. "My license was upheld, the only time it was challenged, in federal court. Maybe that made me feel overly confident. ... I've got the IRS tax guide. It's a fairly old one (from 1994), but I'm told it doesn't change that much. My understanding is that I don't have to file or pay taxes if I'm an exempt ministry, and I feel that I comply."