A series of raids were carried out Friday in Jurupa Valley and Hemet, targeting suspected unlicensed marijuana dispensaries run by a church that openly uses cannabis products in its services.
The Riverside County Cannabis Regulation Task Force conducted a sweep at locations managed by The Vault Church, allegedly seizing marijuana at the following locations: 5024 Etiwanda Ave. and 5298 Mission Blvd., both in Jurupa Valley, as well as 291 N. Yale St. in Hemet.
According to the District Attorney's Office, whose investigators head up the task force that was formed last month, sizable but unspecified quantities of marijuana and cash were seized at each spot, and a "significant indoor marijuana grow" was uncovered at the Etiwanda property. However, no one was arrested.
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"We will pursue investigations into unlicensed and illegal dispensaries," said D.A.'s Bureau of Investigation Chief Joe DelGiudice.
"These places operate outside of state laws and use unfair business practices that hurt legal dispensaries. They often supply untested and potentially harmful product to consumers and promote criminal enterprise."
The Vault Church has publicly acknowledged using cannabis products, both smokable and edible, in meditative ceremonies. Representatives deny that they operate for the exclusive purpose of selling and distributing recreational pot.
The city of Jurupa Valley sued the church last year, seeking a judicial order for the organization to desist operations. A Riverside County Superior Court judge in May granted the city's petition. Jurupa Valley voters soon after approved a measure that instituted a blanket ban on all types of commercial marijuana cultivation and sales.
"We recognize the necessity of proactive efforts to address unlawful activities related to marijuana," Sheriff Stan Sniff said. "Participating in efforts that leverage our limited resources and act as force multipliers to address community concerns is important, and we are pleased to be a part of this task force."
All stationary and mobile marijuana dispensaries are currently illegal in the county's unincorporated communities. However, multiple cities within the county have ordinances that permit commercial transactions.
The county does permit pot cultivation by patients who are prescribed medical marijuana, and under Proposition 64, individuals who are at least 21 years old may grow up to six plants for personal use in a private dwelling.