The founders of a church in North San Diego County have filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego for shutting their church down and confiscating their sacrament.
That sacrament: cannabis.
On Oct. 25, San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Jah Healing Kemetic Temple of the Divine in Fallbrook.
Once inside deputies detained four church ministers and carted away more than $1 million in cannabis products, used by the church’s 500-members as a sacrament.
According to documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates, the raid was ordered because the church did not have the necessary permits in place. County planning officials considered the temple was operating as a dispensary and not a church.
But April Mancini, one of the church’s founders, said planning has nothing to do with it, instead, the county is targeting them for their beliefs.
“This is our belief. We believe cannabis brings us closer to our maker,” she said. “It's used to heal people. We pray with people and they can use the sacrament or they’re also able to take the sacrament home with them.”
Issues with the church began in May of this year. That’s when Mancini received a letter from San Diego County’s Planning Department ordering her to “cease operating immediately” and referred to the church as a “marijuana collective.”
“[Y]our property must be immediately rectified by ceasing the illegal occupancy associated with the operation of a marijuana dispensary,” reads the June 21 letter.
An attorney for the church, according to public documents, responded, telling the county that a special permit is not needed because Jah Healing Kemetic Temple is registered with the state as a non-profit religious entity.
The church refused to close its doors. The county did not acquiesce. In late October deputies showed up at the church to close it down.
“They threw ministers around, handcuffing and detaining them,” Mancini said. “Then they took all of the sacrament. They took everything from us.”
In addition, deputies placed a “red tag” on the building, preventing anyone from entering or using the building.
“We have a lot of people with a lot of problems, whether that’s being mentally ill or just in need of a prayer,” Mancini said. “We were there for that. The temple was not just for them to come and get Cannabis, this is something that heals them.”
The Fallbrook facility is not the only cannabis church that has been closed down this year.
Mancini also runs another cannabis-minded church in Big Bear. She said that church was also raided this year, along with her home and her parent’s home.
In February, San Diego police raided and closed down another cannabis church. In that raid, officers confiscated estimated approximately $1.1 million in marijuana.
Last week, attorneys for the Jah Healing Kemetic Temple in Fallbrook filed a lawsuit against San Diego County for closing the church’s doors.
“It really goes against the grain of what religious freedom is in America,” said Matt Pappas, the lead attorney for the church.
But Pappas claims there may be more to the purpose behind this raid and others around the state.
“The attacks on the churches have been in the last couple of years, more so since the legalization of marijuana,” Pappas said. “I think part of the problem for the county is it is not getting regulatory fees from these churches as is the case with a licensed dispensary. I think a lot of it is about the money.”
The county of San Diego declined to comment, citing pending litigation.