Lawyer No-Show Tanks Sacramental Pot Case

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming Sonoma County sheriff’s officers illegally confiscated and destroyed a Native American church’s sacred marijuana plants, after the church’s attorney didn’t show up for a court conference.
     The Oklevueha Native American Church sued the county sheriff’s department and the state of California in Federal Court in November 2015.
     Sheriff’s officers raided the church’s Kenwood branch in September last year and arrested the branch’s leader, plaintiff Saul A. Garcia.
     In its complaint, the church said cannabis, along with peyote and “various other natural herbs and plants” are sacraments. It claimed the sheriff’s department held “a preconceived notion that Native American religions are ‘bogus’ and imply a cover for illegal drug-dealing” as a basis to discriminate against the church.
     After the church’s attorney, Matthew Pappas, failed to show up to a scheduling conference on June 7, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria dismissed the case for failure to prosecute.
     Chhabria had previously removed the state as a defendant in the case on March 29 after Pappas said he planned to drop claims against the state but failed to file papers to that effect.
     The judge warned Pappas in a March 30 ruling that “continued failure to meet
     deadlines, prosecute the case, or otherwise fail to live up to minimum standards of professional responsibility could result in sanctions and/or referral to this court’s standing committee on professional conduct.”
     Pappas, of Long Beach, Calif., could not be reached by phone or email Thursday. His phone number was “temporarily unavailable” and an email address registered with the court is no longer valid.
     Another attorney representing the church, Charnel James of Davis, Calif., said she was hired to help with the case but that her “association was terminated” at least four weeks ago.
     The Sonoma County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit’s dismissal.
     This was not the only branch of Oklevueha Native American Church to sue authorities over the seizure of allegedly sacramental canabis.
     The church’s Oregon branch also sued the federal government in January for seizing five ounces of “sacramental marijuana” that was mailed to a church member in Ohio.
     The lawsuits over religious freedom and the right to sacramental cannabis use come amid a backdrop of debate within the Native American church. Some leaders have accused certain branches and individuals, like Oklevueha Native American Church founder James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney, of using religious freedom as a pretext to grow and traffic pot.
     In their lawsuit against the federal government, however, Mooney and co-plaintiff Joy Graves describe the use of marijuana in Native American rituals as a tradition that goes back centuries.

%d bloggers like this: