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By Jeff Pack
Writer 

Jah Healing Kemetic Temple files suit against county

 

Last updated 1/12/2019 at 2:32pm



The Jah Healing Kemetic Temple in Fallbrook said repeated attempts to work with San Diego County have failed, leading them to file a lawsuit against the county regarding the recent raid of its facility and seizure of property.

The suit is in response to a 7 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, warrant serve that was the result of what the county said was Jah Healing’s owners’ violation of San Diego County Zone Ordinance 6976, Prohibition of Marijuana Facilities – Medical or Non-Medical.

During the raid, officers detained four church ministers and seized more than $1 million in cannabis products. County planning officials said the temple was operating as a dispensary and not as a church.

“They were served cease and desist letters several times – told they were operating an illegal dispensary – and they remained open in violation of county codes and also in violation of state law,” detective Sgt. Patrick Yates of the San Diego County Sheriff Department’s Fallbrook substation told the Village News in November. “They are not in compliance with the mandates according to the most recent marijuana laws and dispensary regulations.”

The San Diego County board of supervisors banned marijuana businesses in all unincorporated communities in June 2017.

But according to Matthew Pappas, the lawyer representing Jah Healing in this lawsuit, the issue is one of religious bias, and the county is hiding behind accusations of permit violations to shut the church down.

“While the county has targeted a church that has cannabis as sacrament, it isn’t biased against churches that have wine as sacrament,” Pappas said. “Those churches pass their money collection plates around during meetings when they serve alcohol to not only adults, but also minors. Moreover, the county isn’t biased against peyote or ayahuasca churches.

“Even though cannabis has been used in far more religions for far longer than any other sacrament, it is targeted by government in-part because of years of prohibition and years of growing government desire to control lives. In California, state and municipal entities seem not to recognize that sincere religious belief is the issue in church cases – not regulations governing secular cannabis dispensing,” Pappas said.

Pappas insisted that a lack of religious protection is at the heart of this issue.

“It is lack of recognition of laws protecting the free exercise of religion and a decision to stereotype anything having to do with cannabis as negative,” he said. “The immediate reaction to churches that have cannabis as sacrament is usually a giggle followed by discriminatory comments about stoners or illegal drugs. The taxing and regulation of secular marijuana dispensaries seems also to be at issue for municipalities that discriminate against the churches.”

Pappas was asked if any exchange of money within the church’s walls in regard to cannabis would alleviate the issue, he denied any sales were taking place.

“The church takes in tithing and donations,” Pappas said. “It blesses sacrament and provides it for members. Members can bring sacrament to the church for blessing. Churches that have wine as sacrament are not required to abate taking tithing. Nor do they have to send members to the secular liquor store to obtain wine. Churches that have cannabis as sacrament – which has been used for 7,000 years in religions around the world – should not be treated differently.

“The church could simply stop having cannabis at its location which essentially eliminates its ability to practice what it believes solely because government has decided it doesn’t agree with the church’s beliefs,” Pappas said.

He said efforts to work with the county to reopen the church have been fruitless so far.

“The church would like to resolve the matter with the county,” Pappas said. “However, calls made and letters sent to the county have gotten no response.”

Pappas said the suit wants a determination by the court that the church and its members sincerely believe that cannabis is sacrament and is central to their religious beliefs.

“It further seeks a declaration that the blessing, provision and use of cannabis sacrament is sincere and central to the religion,” he said. “Finally, the lawsuit seeks to establish that state and local secular cannabis laws are not evaluated at the ‘rational basis’ level, but rather at the ‘strict scrutiny’ level in respect to the church and that when reviewed at that level, those laws do not meet the ‘strict scrutiny’ analysis.”

Back in November, Yates told the Village News that law enforcement had received “dozens of complaints over the last year or so about the illegal dispensary operating.”

Pappas said the church has attempted to reach out to a business located in the same building as Jah Healing that he said has done a fair amount of complaining, but the issue is deeper than that.

“We have reached out to them, but the dispute is more complicated and involves issues beyond just the church and it’s sacrament,” he said. “We will continue to try to work to resolve the issues with that business.”

Tom Ferrall contributed to this report.

Jeff Pack can be reached at jpack@reedermedia.com.

 

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