The campaign to legalize marijuana across America is going strong, with state after state ignoring federal statutes and adopting laws allowing marijuana sellers to thrive.
Typically, however, local jurisdictions bar marijuana sales from proximity to schools, playgrounds and churches.
But a company in California planning to build a marijuana production facility sued a church located within 1,000 feet of the site.
Cannversions Inc. filed a long list of complaints with the city against Vision Church San Diego, contending the church had no right to its land and should be forced to move.
The church’s legal defender, Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said Thursday the case has been settled and the church has emerged as the winner.
In the settlement, the city confirmed the church is not in a flood zone, as Cannversions contended. And the city will change its development code so that it no longer discriminates against churches. The city also will pay all the costs of the lawsuit.
Cannverions, which had been barred from building its facility because of the church’s proximity, also tried to buy the church and shut it down.
After the company complained to the city that the church’s building was in a flood plain, the city ordered the church to stop using the building.
Advocates said Pastor Andy Ballon responded by contacting one of its attorneys, Nada Higuera with Tyler & Bursch LLP.
An investigation found that the church had all of the documentation demonstrating compliance with all flood zone regulations, but the marijuana company and the city persisted.
A year later, the settlement was reached.
“Pastor Andy Ballon and Vision Church are happy with the outcome, given that it means they will be permitted to stay in the building and continue to serve the community they’ve called home for nearly a decade,” Advocates said.
Advocates said Cannversions simply chose to set up shop near a church and then decided it would rather move the church than move its operations.
“They decided to complain to the city that the church was not legally entitled to be at its current location because it violated technical building requirements,” Advocates said.
While the city immediately sided with the marijuana company, the church produced official documents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that addressed all flood plain concerns.
“The document explicitly states that the church property is not a flood hazard. In fact, before the church property was built in the 1980s, the land developer filled the church property to raise it above flood hazard levels,” Advocates said.
“Additionally, the city had no issues with any of the medical clinics, gyms, and other business in the same zone, which could only mean that they have singled out Vision Church because of Cannversions’ complaint.”
The congregation was being threatened with fines of $4,000 per day.
“As a church we’re not paying high taxes to the government,” said Ballon, “but the marijuana production facility will supply local marijuana dispensaries and bring in a significant amount of tax revenue.”
The church’s lawsuit against the city cited the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that requires local governments to treat churches and religious groups the same as other organizations and companies.
Advocates said it also is working on a similar case on behalf of another church in the city.