RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – Officials announced seizing a significant amount of marijuana products and tens of thousands in cash on Friday from dispensaries accused of illegally operating in Hemet and Jurupa Valley under the name “Vault Church.”
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said its Cannabis Regulation Task Force served search warrants at three locations: 291 N. Yale St. in Hemet and 5298 Mission Blvd. and 5024 Etiwanda Ave. in Jurupa Valley.
Authorities estimated confiscating more than 100 pounds of cannabis product and about $75,000 to $100,000 in cash.
At the Etiwanda Avenue location, the task force reported finding 200 to 300 plants that were being grown indoors as well as what appeared to be remnants of a butane honey oil lab.
Officials did not make any arrest on Friday as the investigation continued, the District Attorney’s Office said.
While state law allowing the sale of recreational marijuana took effect in January, businesses in California still need local approval.
In Jurupa Valley, 57 percent of voters in the June 5 election approved a measure to uphold the ban on all commercial marijuana businesses in the city. Such operations are also banned in Hemet, but voters could decide in November to change that.
“The aim of the [Cannabis Regulation Task Force] is not to shut down legally operating facilities, but rather to ensure fair business practices and keep criminal activity out of the legal cannabis industry and out of our communities,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Leaders associated with the Vault Church and other similar operations have said smoking marijuana and eating edibles were part of their religion.
The Weedmaps page for the Vault advertises the church as a “sacramental cannabis ministry [that holds] cannabis as the essential, defining element of spiritual growth, healing, and pursuit of a personal relationship with the Divine power of their enlightened self.” The page also advertises the prices of the group’s products.
Authorities in Jurupa Valley and other places where “pot churches” have proliferated claim the organizations are just dispensaries trying to avoid regulations, including taxes, USA Today reported.
In August, a Riverside Superior Court judge granted an order to let Jurupa Valley city officials close the Vault Church, according to The Press-Enterprise.
“[The judge] didn’t understand why we had to have cannabis,” minister Gilbert Aguirre told the paper. “It’s like asking Catholics to worship without bread and wine.”