Multiple DEA Raids Target Marijuana in Hawaii
CANNABIS CULTURE - Hawaii's THC Ministry and the homes of several medical cannabis growers were raided Wednesday by federal agents from the United States DEA and IRS.
Roger Christie, founder of the THC Ministry, said he was visited Wednesday morning by federal agents and local police who presented search warrants for his Wainaku home and popular Hawaii Cannabis Ministry in Hilo.
"It was a surprise raid," Christie told Cannabis Culture. "Apparently they were looking for evidence of a crime or fraud."
Agents searched Christie's properties for seven hours, confiscating holy anointing oil containing cannabis and seizing files, but made no arrests and laid no charges.
"They were 100% professional and 100% courteous and didn't prevent us from operating," Christie said. "They just confiscated a little cash, a little stash, some records, and our iPhones."
Christie said that at least six, and possibly up to a dozen other people he knows were also raided in a Federal sweep across Hawaii's Big Island.
"Some people were held in handcuffs on their knees with guns to their head," the Minister told CC. "They had their grow equipment confiscated. Other people were treated kindly with no confiscations. A couple of people were fully legitimate medical marijuana patients within the limits of their certificates. One guy was an Iraqi war veteran with cancer."
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported that 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."
Police and other authorities aren't talking, but Christie says the "common denominator" seems to be associations with his Ministry.
"Not everybody was an official member of the Ministry but I knew them all," he said. "And some of them I've been 420-friendly with."
Christie, who is part of the Native American Church and licensed uniquely as a cannabis sacrament Minister by the state of Hawaii, says he has always had a great relationship with local and state authorities.
"I'm administering the services and sacraments of the Ministry here and I've been operating openly for 10 years and have had nothing but good relationships with law enforcement on all levels," he said. "I've had vice squad people here before but they said they understood our legitimacy and we were free to operate. So it has always been green lights from law enforcement until now."
Christie says he will meet with others who were raided to discuss future plans and assess the damage, and is considering legal action to make sure he and his members are protected.
"Some harm was done to me and some harm was done to my ministry," he said. "I'd like our property returned. I'm looking at the option of going into federal court early next week and filing for an injunction and a declaratory relief to see if a court will enjoin the federal government from taking any more action against the Ministry."
Founded in 2000 in Hawaii, THC Ministry has expanded across the globe with chapters in the UK, Australia, The Netherlands, Canada, and at least 15 US states. Members consider cannabis a holy sacrament, and believe that "cultivation and enjoyment of cannabis sacrament is a fundamental human right provided by God and protected by the Constitution."
The Ministry recently gained international fame in a court case involving one of its members, Trevor Douglas, a Colorado man who was convicted of marijuana possession and used a religious freedoms argument and his membership in the THC Ministry as a defense.
The move from Feds comes amid legislative efforts by Hawaiian state lawmakers to make life a little easier for marijuana users. A bill to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate, which has already passed the state Senate, would tax marijuana sales and bring in an estimated $50 million dollars a year. Another bill would decriminalize pot in the state, and a third would increase amounts of plants and product for med patients.
Christie is a board member of a marijuana advocacy group called the Peaceful Sky Alliance, which drafted an initiative passed last November making use of marijuana on private property the lowest police priority on Hawaii's Big Island.
"I don't have secrets things going on here," Christie said. "We are a ministry that provides services and sacrament on a daily basis to people in need. We also provide counseling and education, weddings, funerals and baptisms. We don't have major amounts of cash or stash, ever. We operate with a certain level of transparency and legitimacy."
Christie said he is ultimately positive about the outcome of the raid, and thinks it will help his Ministry and members gain further acceptance.
"I feel like they were searching for the limits of my legitimacy," he said. "If we get a clean bill of health from the IRS and the DEA, I think we can start the tractors and start plowing the fields and really grow this thing to a higher level."
Video from Big Island Video News.