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A higher power: The legal battle between a church using cannabis for worship and the city calling it a front for a pot store




A budtender displays cannabis at the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California, December 27, 2017.
A budtender displays cannabis at the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California, December 27, 2017.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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Should an Inland Empire church that uses cannabis as part of its religion be allowed to stay open?

It’s the question at the heart of a legal battle going on between the Vault Church of Open Faith and the city of Jurupa Valley, where it’s located. Local officials have been trying to shutter the church for over a year, arguing that it is operating as an illegal pot shop in a city that prohibits any marijuana enterprise. As of Tuesday morning, the church could be found advertising on Weedmaps, a website that shows the location and menus for local medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries. For its part, Vault Church filed a complaint against the city seeking $1.2 million in damages, saying the city harassed and discriminated against it. The church says its congregants both smoke cannabis and use edibles as part of their religious sacrament, and argue the city is using municipal zoning laws to religiously discriminate against it.

The Vault Church is not alone in its mission. A number of so-called “pot churches” have appeared across California from Oakland to Los Angeles Counties in the wake of recreational marijuana use being legalized in 2016.

Guests:

Matt Pappas, attorney for The Association of Sacramental Ministries, which represents various cannabis churches; the Association filed the claim against Jurupa Valley

John Eastman, constitutional law professor at Chapman University Fowler School of Law; senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a think tank in Upland, CA