June 15, 1949|
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
|Residence||Hawaii Island, Hawaii|
|Education||Associate in Science in Career Pilot |
|Alma mater||Miami-Dade Junior College|
|Home town||New Jersey countryside|
|Criminal charge||Marijuana possession and trafficking|
Roger Christie (born June 15, 1949) is an American ordained minister in the Religion of Jesus Church, which regards marijuana as a "sacramental herb."  In 2000, he founded the THC Ministry, which offered cannabis as a part of its services. On July 8, 2010, Christie and 13 other individuals associated with the THC Ministry were indicted by a Federal grand jury in Honolulu on marijuana possession and trafficking charges. On Sept. 27, 2013, Christie pleaded guilty to marijuana trafficking and two counts of failing to file income tax returns. On April 28, 2014, Christie was sentenced to a term of five years in federal prison, with credit for time already served at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center.
In 1970 he enlisted in the US Army and was trained as a G2 Intelligence Analyst at Fort Holabird, Maryland, a US Army "spy school", but became disenchanted by the military and political missions in Vietnam and elsewhere. Christie refused his orders to serve in the Vietnam War and received an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. His success in this process inspired him to pursue legal options to overturn United States drug policy, a fight which has led him to numerous court battles and arrests.
In 1986, he became a resident of Big Island, Hawaii. He was a co-founder of the Hawai'i Hemp Council in 1990 and, with Aaron Anderson (Ernest Allan Anderson), and Dwight Kondo, founded the Hawaiian Hemp Company. By 1991, he had one of the first retail hemp stores in the world. In 1996, Christie ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Hawaii County Council. In June, 2000, he was ordained as a minister by the Religion of Jesus Church through the Universal Life Church. He received his license to perform marriages in the State of Hawaii as a "Cannabis Sacrament" Minister and founded the THC Ministry. In 2004 he failed in an election bid for Mayor of Hawaii County.
Christie ran the THC Ministry (aka Hawaii Cannabis Ministry) in Hilo, Hawaii for ten years. According to the Ministry's website, "We use Cannabis religiously and you can, too." For a $50 donation, a person could become a "Practitioner" and receive a plaque, an "affidavit of religious use", two ID cards, and seven "Sacramental Plant Tags". For $250, the donor would get a "Sanctuary Kit" which also included the "THC Minsitry [sic] Cannabis and Religion Guide". According to Christie, "We have cannabis here that people can donate for if they are 'blue card' (medical marijuana permit) holders or members of the ministry." According to the FBI, an estimated 90% of the customers were Ministry members, while the remaining 10% had state medical marijuana cards. In order to join the Ministry, prospective members were supposed to sit through an orientation session with Roger Christie. However, Roger Christie said he scheduled membership sessions with passengers on visiting cruise ships who were in Hilo for one day, and one could also join by ordering a Ministry "sanctuary kit" by mail for a $250 "donation."
In 2009, the ministry was open three days a week from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. During this three-hour period, there were up to 70 customers served, and the Christies sold over one-half pound of marijuana "sacrament," making about $1,000 or more in profit. There were "suggested donation" prices such as $50 for one-eighth ounce, $100 for one-quarter ounce, and $400 for one ounce. When one customer complained during an intercepted call that the quoted "donation price" of $400 an ounce was rather high, Roger Christie justified this amount, stating "It's retail," and "Normal retail. You know, we buy it, you know, at forty-five hundred, five grand a pound, so…."  At these rates, donations to Christie's ministry in exchange for marijuana would amount to about $500,000 per year.
The Christies instituted an "express" procedure in early 2009, which made it unnecessary for prospective members to meet with the Christies or to receive any spiritual blessing/advice from them in order to receive their marijuana "sacrament." Rather, as long as the customer could pay the full amount of the "donation" price and had someone's membership card or state medical marijuana card, that person could acquire "sacrament." 
In 2008, an undercover law enforcement officer was introduced to Roger Christie, and on three separate occasions at the ministry, Christie sold quantities of marijuana to him (the largest being one-half pound).
Thereafter, a court-authorized wiretap on three telephone lines used by Roger Christie from April to July 2009 resulted in the interception and recording of numerous telephone conversations involving Roger and Sherryanne Christie, ministry employees, and other persons. According to Christie, investigators monitored 17,000 phone calls during a two-year period.
On March 20, 2010, Federal agents raided the downtown Hilo sanctuary of Christie's Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, assisted by local police. 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.
A three-count sealed indictment in June, 2010 charged Christie with conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants, manufacturing marijuana and possession with the intent to distribute 240 marijuana plants.
Arrest and incarceration
Christie was arrested on Thursday July 8, 2010, along with 13 others from the Big Island, and charged with possession and sale of cannabis. According to court documents, authorities confiscated approximately 30 ounces (845 grams) of processed marijuana in the Wainaku apartment and more than $34,000 cash from the apartment and a bank safe deposit box. The money and the apartment face possible federal forfeiture. Christie's arrest culminated a two-year investigation by federal and county law enforcement during which they seized 2,296 marijuana plants, nine weapons, 33 pounds of processed marijuana, and four properties from Christie and his co-defendants. Federal authorities said this was a huge pot-growing and selling organization masquerading as a religious group. Agents seized about 3 thousand plants with a street value of nearly $5 million.
After his arrest, Christie was taken to Oahu and incarcerated at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center. All other detainees were speedily released on bail or signature bond before trial. But Hawaii Federal District Court Judge Alan Kay ruled that Christie must remain in federal custody until his trial.
The prosecution argued that Christie should not be released on bail because he is a danger to the community. The court accepted this argument because marijuana was found again in a new search of Christie's home in June 2010, leading the court to conclude that Christie would continue to violate the law while out on bail. As quoted in the Star-Advertiser on Feb. 24, Judge Alan Kay remarked: "You would think the light would come on when the first search of his residence was made." Judge Kay's ruling was upheld by 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Jan. 17, 2013, a federal grand jury in Honolulu returned an updated indictment against Christie and seven co-defendants. The indictment includes additional charges for three sales of marijuana to an undercover officer during 2008 and two charges of his failure to file income tax returns for 2008 and 2009," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Kawahara, the lead prosecutor, said.
On March 21, 2013, The Hawaii Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs heard and passed Senate Concurrent Resolutions SCR75 and SR42, "urging the federal government to release Roger Christie pending trial."
On April 3, 2013, Roger Christie was visited by Senator Russell Ruderman and Senator Will Espero at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Honolulu. The purpose of this visit was to discuss Mr. Christie's incarceration, health, and rights as a United States citizen under the United States Constitution. The terms of this visit specified that no media be present. Mr. Christie was denied contact with reporters from National Geographic, Newsweek, Honolulu Civil Beat, and others. Senator Ruderman stated, "I have known Roger for over 25 years. He is one of the most peaceful persons I know. To anyone who knows him, the claim that he is a danger to the community is absurd." Senator Espero commented. "This visit was very enlightening. I still feel that Mr. Christie should be released pending a trial." 
On April 10, 2013, the Hawaii Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee heard concurrent resolutions SCR75 and SR42, "urging the federal government to release Roger Christie pending trial." Hundreds of testimonies supporting the measures were received from the public.   
The Committee also heard testimony from Tracy Ryan, the Vice Chair of the Hawaii Libertarian Party, who said that Roger Christie was the victim of a "frightening", "railroading system" in which federal prosecutors have provided "a lot of good lawyerly reasons... to... say that the constitution of the United States doesn't apply to the federal system." 
During the proceedings, Senator Sam Slom and Senator Russell Ruderman both spoke in support of passing the resolutions onto the senate for a full hearing. Sen. Clayton Hee, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, acknowledged that there were "many testimonies in support" of the resolutions. Nevertheless, Senator Hee deferred the resolutions.
Another 2013 Hawaii Senate Resolution, SR12, called on President Obama to "initiate a formal investigation into the conduct of federal law enforcement personnel in regard to the violation of the constitutional rights of Hawaii County Resident, the Reverend Roger Christie." SR12 was never scheduled for a hearing.
Christie faced up to 40 years in a federal penitentiary if convicted at trial. He was represented by a public defender. While Christie was awaiting trial, six co-defendants made plea deals with the prosecution to cooperate with authorities.
On September 27, 2013, Christie made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty in federal court to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants. His wife, Sherryanne Christie, pleaded guilty to a similar charge but involving 50 plants or more. As part of a plea agreement, the Christies agreed to forfeit more than $21,000 in proceeds from the operation of the THC Cannabis Ministry, which operated in Hilo from 2000 until July 8, 2010, when they and 12 others were arrested. Roger Christie also agreed to forfeit a condominium apartment on Kauila Street in Hilo which was used to facilitate their marijuana trafficking activities.
On April 28, 2014, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi sentenced Roger Christie to a term of five years in federal prison, with credit for the almost four years he has been incarcerated, permitting him to be released in less than 15 months. In addition, he was sentenced to supervised release — the federal equivalent of probation — for four years after serving his prison term. The conditions of the supervised release include refraining from use of marijuana or other controlled substances or from being in the presence of using marijuana. He will be subject to drug testing. He will also be allowed to appeal his sentence. His wife and co-conspirator, Sherryanne "Share" Christie was sentenced to a term of 27-months. She will be allowed to remain free on bail pending appeal of her sentence. 
The prosecution resulted from the combined efforts from 2008-2010 of the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations; Homeland Security Investigations; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the National Park Service; the Sheriff's Office, Department of Public Safety; the Hawaii Police Department; and the Honolulu Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael K. Kawahara.
On September 4, 2014, Roger Christie was transferred to the Mahoney Hale halfway house in Honolulu before being allowed to return to Puna on the Big Island on supervised release on November 14. 
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