La Puente church suing LASD, claims pot is part of religious services

LA PUENTE, Calif. (KABC) -- A local church raided by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies is suing the department, saying it uses marijuana as part of its religious services.

At the Church of Hundred Harmonies in La Puente, there are two doors: One takes you inside the temple hall with a small sanctuary, the other leads you to the sacraments. Inside, it looks just like a marijuana dispensary where members buy various strains at different prices by the gram.

The church says weed is central to their religious beliefs and protected by their right to practice their religion.

Alanna Reeves is the president of the Association of Sacramental Ministries, made up of cannabis churches including Hundred Harmonies.

"(The plant) helps our mind, it helps our spirituality, it helps create inner peace, and we want to spread that. We want people to become aware of what this plant is doing for our community," Reeves said.

But to law enforcement, the churches are operating as unlicensed dispensaries. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department raided Hundred Harmonies last November, and the church is now suing the county.

Attorney Anthony Bettencourt represents the church.

"Its activities are protected under the California constitution, the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Laws that place a substantial burden on the free exercise of their religion will not be upheld," said Bettencourt.

He added that the sincerity of beliefs, not the form of sacrament, is what matters in court.

People working and buying marijuana and edibles did not want to be identified on camera, out of concern there could be another raid.

"It's just a really positive movement, and people are trying to put this dark cloud over it when really this is something that we believe in, and we shouldn't be persecuted because this is something that we are realizing helps people," Reeves added.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and an injunction to stop any future raids. The sheriff's department said it won't comment on pending litigation.
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