Leaders of a Native American church have sued the U.S. Postal Service in federal court after the government seized marijuana that church leaders say was intended for religious use by a member on Ohio.
Leaders of the Utah-based Oklehueha Native American Church said the federal government violated their right to religious freedom when authorities seized marijuana intended for use as part of “Native American spiritual healing practices” by a member who suffers from cancer.
Joy Graves leads a Cottage Grove branch of the church. Graves and James Mooney, the church’s spiritual leader, are listed as plaintiffs in the suit, filed this month in U.S. District Court in Portland.
The church, which the suit says serves the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge as well as other Native American tribes, incorporates “medicine men,” cannabis “and various other natural herbs and plants” into its religious practices, according to court documents.
The suit claims that the church’s use of the U.S. Postal Service to send “sacramental cannabis” to a member in Ohio are protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which among other things protects Native American use of peyote.
In a written statement, the U.S. Postal Service said the package was seized “based on obvious signs that it contained a controlled substance… Under federal law, regardless of state law, a person is prohibited from sending controlled substances — such as marijuana — through the mail.”
In early December, Graves attempted to mail a package that included about five ounces of marijuana to the Ohio church member. Graves sent the package via priority mail from a Eugene post office.
Later that month, Graves learned that law enforcement seized the package at a postal facility in Portland. Graves, according to the suit, told the official that the marijuana was to be used as part of the church’s “spiritual healing practices.”
The official told Graves that it is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act to mail marijuana and that the package would not be “returned, released or delivered to the church member in Ohio.”
“Each day the sacrament is delayed, the healing process provided through the church is denied to its member,” the suit states.
The lawsuit asks the court to grant a temporary restraining order requiring the postal service to return the cannabis to the church.
— Noelle Crombie