Members of the Vault Church of Open Faith staged a protest outside their church as investigators served a search warrant inside.
“I am a bit saddened. Saddened that they had to come with all of their gear with all of their weaponry on to our holy ground. This ground is where we do pray,” said Gilbert Aguirre, a minister at the church.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Cannabis Regulation Task Force is accusing the the church of operating an unlicensed and illegal dispensary.
During the raid, large amounts of marijuana and cash were seized. They also found an indoor marijuana grow.
“We will pursue investigations into unlicensed and illegal dispensaries,” said D.A.’s Bureau of Investigation Chief Joe DelGiudice. “These places operate outside of state laws and use unfair business practices that hurt legal dispensaries. They often supply untested and potentially harmful product to consumers, and promote criminal enterprise.”
The church’s attorney says they plan on taking legal action against the county.
“Because members of the Vault Church have cannabis as their central sacrament, they are being persecuted and targeted through illegal and unconstitutional action,” said Matthew Pappas in a statement.
“Well, it is not going to stop us. We’re going to move somewhere else. We have well over a 1,000 followers who believe what we believe in. We believe cannabis is our sacrament,” said a church member.
Others see it differently. “What they are doing across the street I don’t think it is right,” said neighbor Armando Valadez.
He and other longtime residents say the church is violating the city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries.
“We have a high school within two blocks of this place and they get their marijuana then they come over here and smoke it and it goes into the backyard of our neighbors who has two children,” said Jeanie Stellrecht.
This isn’t the first time the church has faced legal troubles. Last month, a judge granted the city of Jurupa Valley the authority to close the dispensary.
“Never heard of a church that sells their sacrament. So, I have to assume the reason they are trying to be a church in this respect is to get around what the law says,” said Jurupa Valley City Manager Gary Thompson.