For many years he was the "monetary architect" of the "Liberty dollar," much beloved by antigovernment "Patriots." Nowadays, after running afoul of federal authorities over his alternative currency scheme, Bernard von NotHaus has embarked on a more ethereal venture: the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, where he is the "high priest." Church members step into the "High Room" for one toke of marijuana, then retire to a meditation room "in serene bliss," according to a church press release.
Von NotHaus, 64, says he once was friends with psychedelic drug proponent Timothy Leary. But he’s best known on the radical right for creating "American Liberty currency" certificates in denominations of $1, $5 and $10, starting in 1998. The certificates were backed by stocks of silver and gold stored in Idaho, von NotHaus said. The currency has been popular with extreme-right tax protesters and members of the radical "sovereign citizens" movement, who maintain that the federal government has no right to tax or otherwise regulate them, as well as those who believe that the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank, is run by a private body for personal profit.
In 2007, federal agents raided the company’s Evansville, Ind., headquarters, and seized two tons of copper coins featuring Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and 500 pounds of silver from a Liberty Dollars warehouse. The raids followed the U.S. Mint’s issuance of a public warning to consumers and businesses that using Liberty Dollars in lieu of U.S. currency was a crime.
Although von NotHaus feared he might be arrested on allegations of violating federal laws prohibiting the private manufacturing of currency, he was not criminally charged. He has always insisted that Liberty Dollars are a voluntary barter currency, not "legal tender," "current money" or "coin."
Von NotHaus said he has been smoking pot for 40 years. But it was only in the past 12 that he began smoking one puff of marijuana every Sunday morning and learned "to listen to the God within my own mind." The idea of a church came to him "as a means for other people to experience their higher consciousness," he wrote in a lengthy essay on the church’s website. The website lists no address for his church, however, and he wrote that there is no need to visit there to experience God — just take "one toke of high-grade marijuana" and lie down in a dimly lit room.
Despite his redoubled interest in cannabis-fueled bliss, it doesn’t appear that von NotHaus’ Liberty Dollar ties have completely gone up in smoke. The Liberty Dollar website features his photograph, front and center, along with a long message from him extolling the virtues of Liberty Dollars. "Even though I get an enormous amount of mail, please write to me," von NotHaus says. "I love hearing every Success Story when you use the Liberty Dollar."
Even so, von NotHaus said last October that he was turning over the reins of the Liberty Dollar to others and retiring. He had, he said in a written statement to supporters, "discovered an amazing new God within my own mind." Now von NotHaus says he hopes to publish a book on famous and not-so-famous people’s positive drug-use stories. The working title: "One Toke to God — Two Tokes to Party."