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Native American Church Fights Pot Bust

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Sonoma County sheriff's officers illegally confiscated and destroyed a Native American church's sacred marijuana plants, two members claim in court.

The Oklevueha Native American Church - established in April 1997 in Gunnison, Utah -sued Sonoma County, its Sheriff's Department and Gov. Jerry Brown in Federal Court, alleging violations of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the California Constitution's No Discrimination Clause.

Sheriff's officers raided the church's Kenwood branch with a warrant on Sept. 14 and arrested plaintiff Saul Garcia, according to the complaint. Kenwood, pop. 1,030, is an unincorporated community in the Wine Country between Santa Rosa and Sonoma.

Garcia claims that because medical marijuana is legal in California, "there is no longer even a rational basis justifying the state law used by the county as a basis for its action."

After holding Garcia for 6 hours at the site, the deputies began confiscating and destroying the church's sacred cannabis plants, the complaint states.

It claims that the search warrant affidavit did not identify the Kenwood branch as part of the Oklevueha church, "nor did it provide any factual information about the nature of the property, the background of the church, that county officials were aware the property was part of the church or any other information necessary for a state judicial officer to properly consider the law, including federal protections for Native American religion."

The church claims that "the integration into its religion of nature, natural health and 'medicine men' is a core principle and part of the church's ongoing Native American practices that have been part of Native American culture and religious practice for hundreds of years."

It says that cannabis, along with peyote and "various other natural herbs and plants," are sacraments. And it claims that the sheriff's officers discriminated against the church "based upon preconceived notions that Native American religions are 'bogus' and simply a cover for illegal drug-dealing."

It seeks an injunction and damages for violations of due process, discrimination, the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and other charges.

It is represented by Matthew Pappas, of Long Beach.

Neither side's counsel responded to requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon before the Thanksgiving weekend.

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