Hawaii island marijuana advocate Roger Christie, jailed since 2010, has been sentenced to five years in prison, the mandatory minimum for charges on marijuana trafficking and income tax evasion.
The Hawaii island man openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use and was sentenced in U.S. District Court for possessing nearly 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring.
Christie, 63, of Hilo pleaded guilty last September in a deal with the federal prosecutor to one count of marijuana trafficking and two counts of failing to file income tax returns for 2008 and 2009.
His wife, Sherryanne Christie, 62, was sentenced Monday to 27 months. Sherryanne Christie will not begin her prison sentence, however, until her appeal is resolved.
A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a July 2010 raid of the ministry. Christie has been in federal detention since, while his wife has been free on bail.
Roger Christie, the founder of the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, also known as the THC Ministry, and his wife have tried to fight the charges on religious grounds.
The couple pleaded guilty after U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled against allowing a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Prosecutors say religion was a front for drug trafficking. They say ministry members paid “donations” in exchange for marijuana.
Christie “was always pushing the limits to see how far he could go in his marijuana trafficking activities under the auspices of the ministry,” prosecutors said in court documents filed last week.
“Christie was clearly in this marijuana trafficking business for financial gain, inasmuch as the ministry’s marijuana and associated paraphernalia sales … were the sole source of income to sustain co-defendant Sherryanne L. Christie … and himself.”
The documents state the couple lived a modest but comfortable lifestyle. Roger Christie also pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to file a tax return. As part of his plea agreement, he will forfeit his apartment and more than $21,000 seized by federal agents.
Under the terms of his conditional plea agreement, Christie will be allowed to appeal the court’s pretrial ruling denying his bid to have marijuana conspiracy, distribution, manufacture and possession charges against him dismissed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
If he wins his appeal Christie will be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas and his convictions will be reversed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.