Attorney: Cannabis Church Lawsuit Could Have Far-Reaching Effects

I read “A Sack of Sacrament” in the July 4 North Coast Journal with interest, as you might imagine since the Redwood Spiritual Healing Ministry’s lawsuit against Humboldt County raises issues that have long interested me in my legal dealings on behalf of cannabis growers. You brought up some interesting facts, but I think the column missed the main issue. At least the main issue for me. The lawsuit was filed June 27 on behalf of the ministry by attorney Matthew Pappas, who alleged that the county of Humboldt and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife violated the church’s rights when officers raided the church’s Southern Humboldt property and destroyed an untold number of cannabis plants in five greenhouses. Pappas sued on two fronts. First, the free exercise of religion clause from the First Amendment, and second, due process requirements of the 14th Amendment. I wish him well in his pursuit of religious freedom and his argument that the church should be exempt from cannabis regulation because it views the plant as a religious sacrament but, as you noted, the government finds itself in the paradox of defining religion in terms that still allow laws.  It is the second claim, due process, which interests me the most. This claim is that when government agents came to the cultivation site, their authorization for this trespass was that they had obtained a search warrant from the courts. That warrant authorized them to come on the private property and search for evidence of a crime. If they felt they had found such, they could seize it. But this did not give them authority to destroy private property, except as necessary for their search. And yet they allegedly vandalized the greenhouses in a way that was not required for their search, and they seized a minute amount of cannabis as evidence, destroying the rest of the church’s plants. The claim is that the destruction of the plants was unwarranted, and the vandalism of the greenhouses was excessive of their authority to damage property. You might analogize this to excessive force claims where humans are injured or killed, except here it is property. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife made some generic defenses when contacted by local reporter Kym Kemp, which you can read in her article about the case ( The agency claimed that its law enforcement agents are authorized to seize…

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