A city in the midst of a heated dispute with a church that uses marijuana during their sermons has now been approved by a Riverside county judge to close it as of August 15th. Judge Sunshine Sykes authorized the move after nearly 9 months of the organizations operation, and months of confusion between authorities in Jurupa Valley and concerned public asking for its regulation.
“We’ll execute the order based on the timing of other things we have going on — we’re working on several other dispensaries at the same time,” City Manager Gary Thompson said Tuesday, Aug. 21.
But the Vault Church of Open Faith is still trying to fight the order, claiming they are being harassed and discriminated against as a religious entity, even going so far as to file a counter suit against the city along with 15 other similar organizations asking for $1.2 million in damages. Lead minister Gilbert Augirre feels the judge misunderstands what the church is trying to do. Augirre compared his church to the followings of the catholic religion, saying they are practicing their religious beliefs the way other churches before them have done so for the past thousand years.
“(The judge) didn’t understand why we had to have cannabis,” lead minister Gilbert Aguirre said last Tuesday. “It’s like asking Catholics to worship without bread and wine.”
According to Aguirre, who has had no previous formal religious training, says cannabis has been apart of religious practices for centuries, according to the translations of the ingredients in anointing oils and how those ingredients vary across religious scholars.
Minister Augirre says his church is a Christ based church, but has members from various religions, including Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists. During a typical service, Augirre preaches a sermon while the congregation made up of around 50 members; partake in marijuana consumption during the service, either by smoking it or eating it.
“Whatever you call your God, bring your God here,” Fraser said. “We will find a way to harmonize, rather than to fight with you.”
“The moniker of open faith means that we welcome everybody,” he said.
But as of April 16 of this year, nearly 3 months after The Vault filed for incorporation with the state of California on January 19th this year, the church’s address and phone number were posted on the popular medical and recreational marijuana locator app, Weedmaps.
Officials from the city say the app showed the church listed as a dispensary, with various strains of marijuana listed for sale.
The churches’ attorney said they listed the church on the app reluctantly, and only because they did not have an option for a religious or church category. And by listing themselves on the app, they are using the opportunity as a tool to use for its missionary outreach program.
“Weedmaps happens to be a venue that people go to when they are looking for cannabis,” said the Vault’s lawyer Matthew Pappas. “We are trying to grow the membership of the church.”
City authorities believe this piece of evidence is what shows the true intention of the self proclaimed church.
City Manager Thompson agreed, “I’ve never heard of a church selling their sacrament,”
Although recreational marijuana was legalized in California during the November 2018 election, its regulation was left up to the cities, and Jurupa Valley bans marijuana businesses of all types.
“The bottom line is we’re just acting on what the voters decided in June,” Thompson said. “The voters decided they don’t want them (dispensaries), and we’ve accelerated our efforts to close them.”
Source : The Recover Newsroom