Can the city of L.A. shut down a church if it sells pot, or shut down a pot store if it's a church, or….? Details on a new lawsuit challenging L.A.'s attempted shutdown of most of its medical pot dispensaries from the L.A. Weekly:
The City Attorney's office sent letters to most of the dispensaries in town warning them they'd have to close down under a stricter city ordinance. Apparently Liberty Bell Temple II was targeted as a pot shop and some of its leaders were subsequently arrested when the city determined it had not shut down as ordered.
R. Edward Forchion, Charquant Leyou, and the Liberty Bell Temple II itself filed suit in Superior Court alleging that the city has infringed on their right, without due process under the law, to practice their religion.
"Liberty Bell II operated as a Rastafarian temple where marijuana was used as a sacrament," the suit states.
The suit asserts that Rastafarians consider marijuana a sacrament. Plaintiffs asked for a court order to prevent the city from interfering in this higher calling.
These kinds of silly messes are inherent in a system whereby you will or won't get tossed in the pokey for an action based on status and motive, a world where some things are maybe OK if you are doing it for a religious or medical reason, and if not, not. For more on that point and the weird history of L.A.'s attempts to manage the non-problem of storefront pot, see my May Reason magazine cover story.
Reality and history indicate that this religious defense for pot use will surely fail in court, but bless the Liberty Bell Temple II folk for trying. For much, much more on the history of religious defenses for drug law exemptions, including one sort of promising but probably not dispositive for these guys 9th Circuit case from 2002, see Jacob Sullum's great May 2007 Reason magazine feature.