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Two churches in San Jose, California are offering its members marijuana and receiving heavy criticism because of it. Police say the churches are fronts for illegal dispensaries.
City officials have been investigating Coachella Valley Church as well as Oklevueha Native American Church, also known as ONAC. Both churches offer cannabis to their members, despite it being illegal to sell or distribute pot without proper permits.
ONAC uses “sacred medicines” like cannabis and peyote as “a mandatory part of our spiritual journey,” according to the church’s official website.
Coachella Valley Church Volunteer Sebastian Grey was asked if the church was actually a dispensary, to which he replied, "We're a church."
Coachella Valley treats cannabis as a sacrament and claims to use the substance for religious purposes, for a small donation fee.
"It's just a 10 dollar donation to be part of the church and then you're a lifetime member," Grey said. "You're able to show your ID, we'll get you checked in and you can go in the back to purchase products."
The lobby inside the church has a receptionist who checks people in. Every member must be at least 18 years old, ABC News reports.
After donating, the member is taken into the chapel to view a video of a sermon. They then are ushered into the backroom where they can purchase and go through numerous marijuana products.
The churches say the government is interfering with religion.
“Our Rastafarian Cannabis Church in San Jose is not politically originated,” Coachella’s websites reads. “And we support no political organization, or commercial institution, seeing that religion, politics, and commerce are the three unclean spirits which separate the people from their God.”
The Coachella church encourages members to abstain from consuming meat and alcohol, and instead encourages cannabis to aid meditation.
"Whatever their followers want to smoke, that's not the issue," San Jose city attorney Rick Doyle said. "It's the distribution and sale coming from the dispensary the church issue that just doesn't fly."
San Jose currently only allows 16 marijuana dispensaries to operate, and each dispensary pays about 10% of its gross sales in taxes. Because neither church is permitted, both of them are not paying taxes to the city.
Doyle said a judge recently signed an injunction to stop operating within the next week and a half. He also said the city plans on doing the same with Coachella Valley church.
San Jose is attempting to set up restrictions on dispensaries’ daily operations, including their operating hours, security, and licensing before the official rollout. Newsweek reports that it looks like California won’t be ready to sell statewide until at least January.