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Growhouses, Pot Fields and Biker Gangs: The Secret Lives and Crimes of Amish Drug Dealers

Just because you avoid modernity, doesn’t mean you abide by the law

On November 1st, when detectives with the Sheriff’s Office of Lawrence County, Tennessee arrived at an Amish farm to serve a search warrant, they were stunned at their discovery: 25 pounds of pot, along with 13 weapons and a pile of cash. 

“To be honest with you, my partners and I were mind-boggled by how it was right there,” Detective Jason Jantke told a local news outlet. What really surprised the officers was the location — what was a growhouse doing on an Amish farm? 

The Amish are instantly recognizable on the roads of states like Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio for their old-school horse-drawn buggies. Not to mention, their distinctive barns and their plain, modest way of dressing. Typically, they live in rural areas, safe and secure from the rest of the modern world. Most of all, they don’t normally grow pounds and pounds of pot. “You never hear anything bad come out of the Amish, per se,” Jantke explained. “There’s bad apples in every crowd, but never thought it would be this big, especially with this amount of marijuana.”

Twenty-five pounds is certainly a lot of pot. But it’s also an amount that could easily be grown by one person in a greenhouse in rural Tennessee without much notice. The trouble for this particular pot grower, Chris Appleby, was that he was Amish, and so were his neighbors. Since the Amish are supposed to eschew modernity, this makes an industrial-scale growhouse a huge violation of their beliefs. And thus, one of Appleby’s neighbors snitched to the police. 

“Normally the Amish community handles things within themselves,” Jantke further explained. “I can’t go into what the complaints were, but it was enough for us to look into it, and while looking into it, we did get probable cause to execute a search warrant.”

Once the officers searched Appleby’s residence, he was taken into custody without incident. 

Chris Appleby

It might help to explain things that Appleby wasn’t born in the Amish tradition; he’s a convert. “From talking to him, he said he moved down here seven years ago and joined the Amish community,” Jantke told the local news. “He just wanted to kind of slow down and live the slow life of the Amish community.”

That said, the Amish have been low-key getting busted for drugs for a minute now. And these bearded brothers in the black buggies ball hard. For instance, in 2014, there was the bust of an Amish farmer named Moses Mast, 40, who lived in Newaygo County, up in Michigan. When the father of five got popped for marijuana cultivation, he had 860 pot plants among the crops in his cornfield. He also had roughly 780 pounds of dried pot on hand, ready for distribution, according to local police. In the sentencing memo prepared by his defense attorney argued, “From his perspective, growing marijuana was an experiment to provide a better life for his children.”

Then there were the two Amish men who got into the cocaine trade with the Pagans, Hells Angels’ rival East Coast biker gang. Abner Stoltzfus, 24, and Abner King Stoltzfus, 23, were from the most reclusive of all Amish communities — the Old Order Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. (They’re not related either, Stoltzfus is just a super common last name in Lancaster County.) They’re the order that rejects modernity the hardest — no electricity, cars or internet. Yet, between 1993 and 1997, the two Abners purchased drugs from the Pagans and would “distribute the cocaine to youth groups known as the Crickets, the Antiques and the Pilgrims at dances.”

As you might imagine, the parents of the Abners had a difficult time comprehending the crimes they were accused of, with one of their lawyers saying, “People think the Amish are sheltered from the outside world, but the temptations are there. My client’s parents are extremely conservative — horse and buggy, the whole bit. They’re having a hard time understanding this.”

The thing is, while moving weight for a legit outlaw biker gang might be a new wrinkle, a life of crime is as old-fashioned as the Amish themselves.