In California, a showdown is underway between a church that sees cannabis as sacred and law enforcement. The battle began when law enforcement raided the church’s weed supply. And now, the church is fighting back. With this California cannabis church suing police over raids, important questions about the state’s legal weed system are coming into focus.
The Church of Hundred Harmonies, located in La Puente, California, is part of a larger network of churches called the Association of Sacramental Ministries.
The defining feature of these churches is that they all see cannabis as sacred. Keeping with this belief, members of these churches consume weed as part of their religious practice.
The building where the Church of Hundred Harmonies gathers has two main sections. One is the sanctuary, the other is a room full of cannabis “sacraments.” Congregation members can go into that room and purchase weed, which is priced by the gram much like at a regular dispensary.
The idea is that after purchasing their weed, members can then go to the sanctuary to partake of their sacraments and participate in the church’s spiritual practices.
But the local Sheriff’s Office apparently sees things differently. They claimed that the sacraments portion of the church building was operating as an illegal dispensary.
As a result, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office raided the church last November. Now, the church is suing the Sheriff’s Department for their actions, claiming that the raid violated their freedom of religion.
The church is seeking monetary damages and an injunction to keep law enforcement from raiding them again.
Final Hit: California Cannabis Church Suing Police Over Raids
This case raises some interesting questions. For starters, it raises the question about whether cannabis use for spiritual purposes is protected under religious freedom laws. To be sure, the church’s lawyer thinks it is.
“Its activities are protected under the California constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and federal law,” Attorney Anthony Bettencourt told local news sources.
“Laws that place a substantial burden on the free exercise of their religion will not be upheld.”
He also said that what matters most in court is the sincerity of a person’s religious beliefs. In particular, he said that matters more than the kind of sacraments a person takes.
Additionally, this case raises questions about how law enforcement will operate in the age of legal recreational weed. For example, California law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on what they claim are illegal marijuana businesses.
The tension arises largely from the fact that recreational retail sales in California became fully operational this year.
Despite this, cops have raided weed shops and have claimed that there are many more that could be raided in the near future.
The problem, according to law enforcement officials, is that many marijuana businesses fail to meet all legal requirements in some way. Sometimes it’s something obvious like failing to have all required paperwork and licenses.
But other times it’s something less obvious, like a security guard with a gun he’s not technically supposed to have.
Either way, many in the industry are a little uneasy with law enforcement’s ability to so quickly find ways around legalization.
The court’s decision in the lawsuit now being filed by the Church of Hundred Harmonies could have implications for this larger concern.