Marijuana dispensary, or a church?

Marijuana dispensary, or a church?

Hundred Harmonies files discrimination suit

By Daniel Guerrero

Located in La Puente, California, Hundred Harmonies is one of the 16 churches belonging to the Association of Sacramental Ministries, according to organizers. (Daniel Guerrero/ Inside Fullerton)

To outsiders, Hundred Harmonies Association of Faith in La Puente appears to be in the business of selling marijuana products. It has a room displaying jars of the substance, according to recent news stories. It appears in online directories as a dispensary. It sells edible marijuana products such as chocolate bars. And law enforcement officials shut down its operations for lacking the required permits.

However, its organizers and members say it has a divine purpose and right to exist. It is a place of worship, they contend.

Similar to the Catholic Church’s use of wine for its sacrament – and even more like the bhang sipped during the Hindu festival of Holi – Hundred Harmonies uses cannabis in church rituals, according to organizers. Hundred Harmonies is one of 16 places of worship belonging to the Association of Sacramental Ministries – a group started in 2017 that uses cannabis for their services, according to Brent David Fraser, one of the founders.

“We’re just trying to spread a Christian message… we use it (cannabis) just like wine,” said Hundred Harmonies Rev. James Young Phan.

The association’s members use cannabis for its assumed healing powers and its properties that act as an entheogen – a substance used to produce a non-ordinary state of consciousness for spiritual purposes. Each church operates as most other churches do. They do missionary work such as food drives and clothes drives, Fraser explained.

In the sanctuary of church, members use cannabis when worshipping similar to Catholics’ use of wine, according to church leaders. (Daniel Guerrero/ Inside Fullerton)

“It is an open faith,” Fraser said. “You can be anything, there is a place for everybody in this association. We unify religion and religious ideas.”

Since the recreational use of marijuana was legalized throughout California through proposition 64, many California cities have tried to control and limit the number of retail outlets. However, the churches have made it clear they aren’t dispensaries.

A November raid by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department allegedly left Hundred Harmonies with a broken down door and its members arrested and ridiculed by law enforcement, according to a complaint filed in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County.

This church claims that its rights have been violated, citing article 1, section 4 of the California Constitution, the “No Discrimination Clause,” which guarantees “free exercise of religion ‘without discrimination of preference’.”

The only possible persecution a church may face is the “legitimacy of its sincerity of marijuana use,” Fraser stated, but he claims the churches have been able to prove so.

Police also raided Sacred Source Sanctuary in San Diego, and the Vault Church of Open Faith claims city officials in Jurupa Valley harassed them and discriminated against them. Both churches belong to the association.

Each is taking action against the respective cities, but the idea of the cannabis churches gives the perception that they are posing as churches to exploit some type of loophole within marijuana laws.

Despite the churches’ claims of sincere usage of marijuana, public perception has yet to change.

“Cases like [Hundred Harmonies] are difficult because there are still stigmas associated with cannabis use, and there are many people who question the validity of cannabis-based religious organizations,” Michael Cindrich, who’s firm, the Law Offices of Michael E. Cindrich, represents Hundred Harmonies.

“This is not a trick,” Fraser said. “It’s what they’re called to do.”

Representatives of both the sheriff’s and San Diego police departments said they are unable to comment on the raids because the incidents are active criminal investigations.

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