A dissenting branch of the Native American Church claims the US government illegally seized its sacramental cannabis. They are now fighting back with leaders like James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney and Joy Graves, who brought a case to a US district court on January 15th.
Graves claims she mailed 5 ounces of cannabis to a church member in Ohio on December 10th, but it never arrived. The Postal Service tracking website reported that the package had been seized by law enforcement.
A postal inspector in Portland claims her cannabis is illegal under federal law and did not care that the cannabis was meant for a church member with esophageal cancer who was meant to use the cannabis to help treat it.
As reported by Courthouse News Service, Oregon legalized medical marijuana in 2007 and approved recreational cannabis through a ballot measure last year. Both remain illegal in Ohio, although small quantities are decriminalized there. Sending cannabis through the mails is still a federal crime.
Mooney and Graves say Native Americans have used cannabis ritually for centuries. They want Graves’ 5 ounces back, and an injunction prohibiting the government from seizing their herbal sacrament, claiming ceremonial use as a right under the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
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Their hurdle against the government may be large. Graves does not claim enrollment with any federally-recognized Indian tribe.
Mooney is a descendant of Osceola, a medicine man and war chief of Florida’s Seminole Tribe. He claims membership in the Crow clan of the Cox Osceola Seminole Indian Reservation in Orange Springs, Florida.Ruth Hopkins, chief judge of the Spirit Lake Tribe of Dakota Sioux wrote that the Oklevueha Native American Church was just a collection of “wannabe Indians.” She accuses Mooney of creating a “veritable maze” of identities, “desperately trying to prove he’s native.” Hopkins does not oppose the use of cannabis, but says that ‘stealing the sacred rites’ by claiming to be Indian, when you are not, is blatantly egregious.
She also accused the two of reckless litigation that could undermine genuine struggles for Native American spiritual rights:
“Now don’t misinterpret me here. Marijuana is medicinal, as are many plants utilized by Indigenous people. However, claiming its [sic] part of our spirituality to avoid catching a case threatens the rights of actual Natives who deserve protection under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.”
In November of last year, 2 members of the Oklevueha Native American Church in California’s Sonoma County sued the state and county in federal court for seizing cannabis plants from their church basement in Kenwood. Claims of spiritual use are again being rejected by authorities.
 Image sourced from Native American Churches
Featured image sourced from CS Globe