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DEA Holds THC Minister in Custody After AppealBonnie King Salem-News.com
13 church members were also arrested, but are out on bail.
(HONOLULU / SALEM, Ore.) - Fourteen people on the Big Island of Hawaii were apprehended in a series of raids, including Roger Christie, founding director of The Hawaii Cannabis (THC) Ministry two weeks ago. He is still sitting in a cell.
61-year old Roger Cusick Christie was arrested when his apartment at Wainaku Terrace was raided at 6:25 a.m. on July 8th, in Hilo, Hawaii. The police booking log did not list charges at first, only that Christie was arrested by local police assisting “other” law enforcement agencies.
A neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous said he saw the agents that morning, "Some looked like DEA, and one of them had a tag on his jacket that said IRS."
"We assisted federal agents in the arrest, and that's about all I can say," said Capt. Randall Medeiros, commander of the Hawaiian police Criminal Investigation Division. He asked for further questions to be directed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in Honolulu.
A man staying with Christie, 34-year-old Nathan Clark, told the Tribune-Herald that he was awakened around 6:30 a.m. and asked to leave the premises by the agents. "These arrests are a civil rights violation," Clark said.
"Cannabis is a sacrament in our religion... and this is a First Amendment issue."
The Hilo 14
We now know that a federal grand jury returned a secret indictment last month against the fourteen people, and that a federal judge unsealed the indictment on July 8th.
Roger Christie is being represented by federal public defender Matthew Winter. Roger and seven of the defendants initially remained behind bars; but according to the THC Ministry website, all thirteen have been released on personal recognizance bonds. All except Roger.
Roger was denied bail by the District Court and then again by an appeal to that ruling, despite a recommendation for a $50,000 bond by the federal Pre-Trial Services.
Others arrested are 58-year old Sherryanne L. St. Cyr (Christie's girlfriend), of Pahoa, 51-year old John D. Bouey III, of Keaau; 50-year old Perry Emilio Policicchio, of Hilo; 61-year old Michael B. Shapiro, of Keaau; 32-year old Jessica R. Walsh, of Hilo; 58-year old Richard Bruce Turpen, of Mountain View; 28-year old Victoria C. Fiore, of Hilo; 41-year old Aaron George Zeeman, of Hilo; 46-year old Suzanne Leonore Friend, of Honokaa; 58-year old Timothy M. Mann, of Honokaa; 40-year old Donald James Gibson, of Pahoa; Wesley Mark Sudbury; and Roland Gregory Ignacio.
Many of the same people had their homes, and the THC Ministry headquarters, raided on March 10th. No one was arrested at that time, and no charges were lodged, “belying prosecutors' assertions that he was a danger to the community,” attorney Winter contended.
Federal Custody for a First Offense
According to Roger’s friend and Ohio attorney, Don E. Wirtshafter, “Roger is a first time, non-violent drug offender. This is not about Roger being dangerous; this is a government tactic to shut Roger up. This week Roger’s public defender filed a proper motion for the federal judge to overrule the magistrate’s decision to deny bail.”
That motion was denied.
On July 9, 2010, Roger Christie appeared in Federal District Court, Honolulu, for arraignment on the Indictment. At that hearing, he pled not guilty to all charges, as did the other 13 people arrested. Due to the government’s filing of a motion to detain Christie, the Magistrate Judge set a detention hearing for July 13, 2010.
Roger Christie asked the court to revoke the Magistrate’s order of detention, even promising that marijuana would be removed from the ministry’s practice while he awaited trial.
The government responded with a 46-page opposing position against Roger Christie, read it HERE.
Michael Kawahara, Assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote, “Regardless of the THC Ministry’s past practices, its mission has been altered by the current prosecutions. Due to this prosecution, Mr. Christie, and others involved in the Ministry, recognize that the federal government prohibits any practice that includes the use of marijuana. Thus, Mr. Christie and the Ministry will respect the Court’s order and the Ministry’s distribution and use of marijuana will cease during the pendency of this case. Mr. Christie instead plans to continue individual and group counseling of THC Ministry members. However, any counseling will not involve the presence or use of marijuana.”
“As indicated in the Pre-trial Services Report, Christie identified the "THC Ministry" as his employer, and he stated that "he has been operating the THC Ministry for the past ten years. He declined to provide his income, but informs he puts all of his earnings back into the ministry.
“It is in this context that one must examine Christie's assertions in his detention appeal papers that he can realistically support himself while on bond by limiting his Ministry activities to legitimate, non-marijuana-related activities.
“…We submit that until the instant wiretap investigation was conducted in this case, no one really knew the magnitude of what Christie was really doing behind the closed doors and facade of his Ministry.”
The federal attorney explained “it is entirely permissible under the Bail Reform Act to detain a person without bail/bond on the basis of dangerousness alone."
Wirtshafter later responded, “Yet even if we believe this speculation, and he does revert back to marijuana use, that use does not pose an identifiable and clear and convincing danger to an individual or the community.”
“The concept of "dangerousness" under the Bail Reform Act is not limited to the traditional consideration of witness and victim safety, but also includes the concern that if the defendant is released on bail/bond, he/she may commit other crimes,” Michael Kawahara said.
At the detention hearing on July 13, 2010, Senior U.S. District Judge Alan C. Kay agreed with prosecutors and found that Christie was a danger to the community and that no conditions or combination of conditions could “assure the safety of the community” and he should not be released on bail or to a halfway house.
So, first-time offender Roger Christie was ordered to remain in federal custody until trial, tentatively scheduled for September 8th- without bail.
An Outspoken Danger to the Community
Roger Christie has been a resident of Hilo, Hawaii for the past twenty-five years, and he is known as one of, if not the most outspoken cannabis activist in the state of Hawaii.
Trouble with authorities often goes along with that territory, but Christie does not appear to have much of a criminal background. He and fellow activist Aaron Anderson were arrested for possessing marijuana seeds back in 1992, though charges for “promoting a detrimental drug” were later dismissed, and since then... nothing.
The government is accusing Roger Christie of felony marijuana crimes: (1) conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants; (2) manufacturing marijuana, i.e., 240 marijuana plants; and (3) possession with the intent to distribute 240 marijuana plants.
If convicted, Roger Christie faces a minimum imprisonment term of 5 - 40 years for each of these counts; he and others could face maximum penalties from five years for distributing or possessing any amount of marijuana to up to life in prison for distributing or possessing more than 1,000 marijuana plants.
Notice has also been given of the United States' intent to seek forfeiture of Christie's residence, and the $21,494 in cash found in his joint possession with St. Cyr, in March.
Americans across the nation are wondering why the DEA and IRS have the time and funding to arrest people like Roger Christie, especially when the law of his state specifically says otherwise. Last November a law was passed that makes adult use of marijuana on private property the “lowest law-enforcement priority” on the Big Island. The law is in effect, however it has not proven to be the safety net that Hawaiians might have hoped.
Roger Christie served on the board of the advocacy group that drafted the initiative. Some believe that all the special attention paid to Christie and his congregation is a reaction to his outspoken advocacy, and that he recently testified in court, apparently just weeks ago.
“It may have been that, after the 1st raid, Roger had gone back to business as usual, and the feds chose a stronger response. This is bad news indeed, as the feds have a 95% conviction rate. They don't bring charges unless it's a "slam dunk"," commented a friend of Christie’s.
That theory was played out in court, and found to be true. Magistrate Chang's decision was apparently largely influenced by Christie's return to leading the THC Ministry after the March 10 raid, which they allege was simply “recommencing the Ministry's marijuana trafficking activities”.
Last spring, on March 10, 2010, Federal law enforcement officers searched the Ministry's business premises, Christie's residence, and Christie/St. Cyr's joint residence. At that time, about 12 live marijuana plants, marijuana seeds, several vials of marijuana tinctures and oils, and approximately 1.86 pounds of marijuana was seized.
Officially Demonizing the Marijuana Plant
After the March raids, the “feds” pulled out all the stops. In testimony, the Federal government charts out its case demonstrating several bugged (“intercepted”) phone calls, and gives simplistic play-by-plays of what an agent saw while hiding outside the THC Ministry premises.
Cannabis is considered a sacrament by many religions, and its use in worship is nothing new. What’s new is the way the federal government terms sacrament as a “code-word”, as if there is something to cover up, flatly accusing Roger Christie of committing crimes “under the guise of religious freedom”.
About 10% of the ministry’s flock are legal medical marijuana patients. Marijuana was approved by Hawaiian voters and went into effect in 2005, and there are thousands of citizens using the herb medicinally, and legally, in the state today. The Hawaii Medical Marijuana Law patient information is available HERE.
Taking out the THC Ministry will turn into quite an expensive endeavor before this is over. The Hilo 14 are accused of having committed such non-violent transgressions as sharing marijuana, growing marijuana, using marijuana, selling marijuana, and promoting marijuana -- quite a large handful of accusations. Surprisingly, liking marijuana is not on the list.
The cost to taxpayers may indeed be worth the high price; that is, if society (those on the Big Island anyhow) is truly safer without the marijuana ministry.
Perhaps, due to this Two-Year long, multi-agency drug enforcement operation, marijuana will disappear all together from the Hawaiian Islands. Perhaps fewer people will choose marijuana as a medicinal option. Perhaps the lure of sitting under a palm tree on the beach enjoying the sound of the ocean while sharing a joint with friends will lose its luster. Considering the history of Hawaii and marijuana, that is hard to imagine.
One thing’s for sure: if there are fewer marijuana farmers to pick on, the police will have a lot more time to investigate the rising, often violent methamphetamine crimes running amok on The Islands. Brilliant.
What this actually comes down to, in simplest terms, is the common denominator in all marijuana “crimes”: prohibition.
If it were not for that simple mistake in U.S. history, this whole case would be a moot point.
Source:thc-ministry.org; various news sources.
Bonnie King has been with Salem-News.com since August '04, when she became Publisher. Bonnie has served in a number of positions in the broadcast industry; TV Production Manager at KVWB (Las Vegas WB) and Producer/Director for the TV series "Hot Wheels in Las Vegas", posts as TV Promotion Director for KYMA (NBC), and KFBT (Ind.), Asst. Marketing Director (SUPERSHOPPER MAGAZINE), Director/Co-Host (Coast Entertainment Show), Radio Promotion Director (KBCH/KCRF), and Newspapers In Education/Circulation Sales Manager (STATESMAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER). Bonnie has a depth of understanding that reaches further than just behind the scenes, and that thoroughness is demonstrated in the perseverance to correctly present each story with the wit and wisdom necessary to compel and captivate viewers.
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