By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
The pastor of a Rhode Island parish was indicted May 11 on federal charges of conspiracy and cultivating more than 100 marijuana plants -- in his church.
Erik Johansson, 48, an ordained minister for Prospect Ministries Inc., was arrested last September after police in Warwick, R.I., executed a search warrant at the church, reports W. Zachary Malinowski at The Providence Journal.
The cops confiscated 183 marijuana plants in several different grow rooms, $565 in cash and other supplies and items used to grow marijuana. Officers said they also discovered an extensive ventilation system to disperse heat and carbon dioxide.
?The police found two registration cards, dated 2009 and 2010, that allow Johansson to be a caregiver in the state's medical marijuana program. However, Rhode Island law allows the licensees to grow no more than 24 plants for up to five patients.
Federal mandatory minimums of five years in prison also kick in with more than 100 plants.
Following his arrest, Rev. Johansson applied to open one of Rhode Island's first medical marijuana dispensaries, to legally sell cannabis to registered patients in the state. The Health Department did not select his group, Rhode Island Compassion Center.
In his application, Johansson complained about his treatment by the police and their decision to destroy his marijuana crop.
"While we were locked up for over 24 hours, they killed all our plants in violation of state law," Johansson wrote, reports ReLeaf. "The amount of medicine lost and its effects on our patients has been excruciating. The physical, psychological and emotional effects have been devastating to us."
"Basically, we assisted people and got them off pharmaceuticals," Johansson said. "We got them off medicine that was killing them. There was so much demand in the community."
Johansson's live-in girlfriend, Lydia Brindamour (preachers get to have live-in girlfriends now? cool), was also arrested. On Monday, she signed an agreement to plead guilty to a federal charge of aiding and abetting Johansson in the cultivation of marijuana.
Johansson faces from five to 40 years in prison if convicted.
He said he is ready to fight the charges in federal court. Johansson said if the case goes to trial, he will have about 15 of his patients take the stand and testify about how his marijuana gave them pain relief.
"There is no way they are going to convict me," Johansson predicted. "[My patients'] lives have been saved. I don't want to go to trial, I want to be left alone.
"This is a plant -- God's gift," Johansson said.
Both he and Bindamour are free on unsecured bond.
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.