By Miriam Raftery
June 14, 2017 (San Diego) -- A Native American religious group is heading to court over a dispute with a landlord in El Cajon over sale of marijuana for use in hallucinogenic sacraments.
The Reader reports that a lawsuit, Razooky Family trust vs. Oklevueha Native Indian Church of Sacramental Healing Inc. filed by the Razooky Family Trust claims that they leased space to the church group in unincorporated El Cajon (at 13313 Highway 8 business route) for a grocery store. The lease states that the premises would not be used for sale of controlled substances including marijuana. But the defendants began selling marijuana anyway, which they contend is for religious purposes.
The unlawful detainer case, originally filed in state court by the landlord, has been moved to federal court. Judge Gonzalo Curiel must now decide if the unlawful detainer would prevent the group from practicing its religious rituals.
The church’s website states that participation includes teachings of Native American ceremonies including vision quest, a sweat lodge ceremony, vision translations, a sacred wisdom circle, plus optional plant medicine and firewalk.
The site makes clear that membership is not limited to Native Americans, but is open to anyone to join. It further states, “If you desire to be blessed by having access to Native American Ceremonies and Sacraments (including but not limited to Peyote, San Pedro, Ayahuasca, Psilocybe Mushrooms and Cannabis) without legal interference, you will want to consider joining Oklevueha NAC and connecting with our medicine people.”
Issues at stake include whether freedom of religion and Native American sovereignty includes freedom to sell otherwise-controlled substances, including to non-Native Americans off-reservation. A federal court decision could have impacts beyond California, where use of medical and recreational marijuana is legal, though sale is subject to local restrictions.
Also at stake are landlords’ rights. Can a property owner legally refuse to rent to a church that the landlord finds objectionable, such as a satanic cult, or simply any religion that conflicts with one’s own beliefs?
Judge Curiel is no stranger to deciding tough or controversial cases. He’s the same federal judge who ruled against Donald Trump in finding that Trump University defrauded students.
He could opt to decide the case on narrow contractual grounds. Or he might broaden the scope to determine whether religious freedom trumps landlords’ rights and could lead to federal drug enforcement efforts going up in smoke.