Turkey bags of weed, pile of cash not ‘sacrament’ – The Mercury News

A San Jose church this week lost a lengthy legal battle after claiming police violated its religious rights by raiding its minister’s home and seizing 90 pounds of marijuana, nearly 1,200 cannabis vaping cartridges and more than $155,000.

Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled Tuesday in federal court in Oakland that the Sacrament Collective Pentecostal Church, despite its foundational belief in cannabis as a holy sacrament, was still subject to state drugs laws. Hamilton threw out the lawsuit the church filed against Santa Cruz County a month after the 2019 search of the minister’s house in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The raid, according to authorities, turned up weed in the large plastic “turkey bags” used for baking the birds, plus the vaping cartridges, parts for vaping pens, 115 cannabis plants growing in a detached garage, a money-counting machine, and cash stashed in a laundry hamper, dresser, and a beer box in a hallway closet.

The church’s lawyer argued in the lawsuit that Santa Cruz County violated its Constitutional right to freely practice its religion by having its sheriff’s deputies arrest minister Corinna Reyes and her husband Davide Berti, and seize the drugs, paraphernalia and money at their home on the outskirts of Scotts Valley.

Lawyer Matthew Pappas, in a phone interview Friday, railed against the sheriff’s office raid and the judge’s ruling. “We’re living in a country that doesn’t follow the Constitution and respect the people who are attempting to practice their religion,” Pappas said.

Money seized by police was not drug cash, but instead the fruits of tithing, Pappas said. He compared the church’s collection of tithes and administration of sacramental marijuana to the holy practices of Catholicism. Catholics, he noted, “put their money in the basket and they get their wine.”

In her written ruling, the judge said Santa Cruz County had not prevented the church from “using or possessing cannabis, in lawful quantities, as a sacrament.” The church, she said, had wrongly argued “that because it is a church rather than a secular organization, it should simply be exempt from all cannabis regulation.” State laws “limit the church’s commercial cannabis activity while permitting its members’ sacramental use,” Hamilton said.

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