STOCKTON (CBS13) — A Native American church member is arrested at the Stockton Airport and charged with possession with the intent to transport and sell the religious cargo he was taking on board.
“Every time one of them is in trouble, I will come to their rescue and say your honor charge me,” said Heidi Grossman.
Grossman is the head of the Oklevueha Native American Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church based in Sacramento.
“We’re the responsible party for every single one of our members and the sacrament,” said Grossman.
The church member, Tony Lee Rigato was attempting to take a bag of the sacrament to another church in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“They were going to have, for a lack of a better way to put it, a grand opening celebration,” said Eddy Lepp, a church priest.
He says the sacrament is marijuana.
“All of the sacrament involved in this was all blessed,” said Lepp.
Lepp said Rigato had a medical marijuana card and church membership forms. His luggage was a duffel bag of the church’s prized possession.
“Hundreds of pieces of edible cannabis type stuff in the form of gummies and candies and chocolate,” explained Pete Smith, the Deputy Public Information Officer with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department.
Smith says to his knowledge, marijuana is not protected under California law as a religious sacrament.
“I have never heard of it in my career,” said Smith.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 protects peyote use for native religions, but marijuana is much more complicated.
“I think they have an argument to make,” said Jeff Kravitz an attorney and professor of Constitutional Law, “whether they’re going to succeed, i don’t know.”
Kravitz says possessing small amounts of marijuana wouldn’t be an issue since the passing of Prop 64, but large amounts — transported by air — lands in a different legal cloud.
“They would probably have to show why the transportation of it was necessary for them to practice their religious beliefs,” said Kravitz.
It’s a unique criminal case. The result could set state precedent.