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News: 11/15/2016

Native American Church leaves Kenwood site

Wooden sign on road
The Oklevueha Native American Church’s sign when it first opened on Lawndale Road in August 2015.

It was over a year ago that a branch of the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) set up shop at a Lawndale Road location, but now it has apparently shut its doors, with an ONAC representative saying members were, “forced out by the local authorities to vacate the premises.”

Sonoma County code enforcement has had an ongoing abatement procedure against the property at 1142 Lawndale Road, charging that a use permit was required to have a religious place of worship, and that a sign they erected violates county regulations.

In an email earlier this month, code enforcement officer Mike Carey wrote that an ONAC representative had told the county that ONAC Valley of the Moon had left the property. Carey said that he had confirmed this with an inspection of the premises.

The ONAC Valley of the Moon made its presence known in August of 2015 when it put up a sign, an act that, according to a press release at the time, indicated that, “these places are church property or sacred ceremonial sites. As such, the grounds and facilities are under different legal requirements than apply to plants grown for medical research or to supply state authorized medical marijuana dispensaries.”

Utah-based ONAC and its 200 branches across the U.S. make use of marijuana and peyote in their religious practices.

In September of 2015, Sheriff’s deputies raided the Lawndale Road property, confiscating and then destroying over 600 cannabis plants.

Soon after, church lawyers filed a civil and religious rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charging in part that the seizure was illegal and had violated church members’ right to use cannabis in their religious rituals.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in June after a church attorney failed to show up for a court conference, with the judge writing that the attorney had repeatedly failed to comply with court rules and procedures.

ONAC filed another federal lawsuit in August, but ONAC voluntarily withdrew the suit in October. Neither case ever got to the point of determining the merits of the lawsuit.

It is not known exactly how many members ONAC Valley of the Moon had at the time they left. In September of 2015, an ONAC Valley of the Moon spokesman put the number at under 10.

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