There’s a back room at Toronto’s historic Broadview Faith Temple that looks a lot like a cannabis dispensary, but the man who will be running the place describes it differently.
“This is where members of the Rastafarian faith [will] come in and get sacrament,” said David Holmes, 52, the founder of the Sanctuary of the Rastafarian Order Ministry, which will soon open its third Toronto location 296 Broadview Ave.
To Holmes, sacrament refers to cannabis.
The Rastafari religious movement, an Africentric faith with no central authority and a wide diversity of beliefs and practices, started in Jamaica in the 1930s and is widely associated with marijuana use — although smoking is not required. Cannabis use, Holmes said, is a method of communing with God in his interpretation of the faith.
“For us it’s sacrament, no different than the Catholic Church,” he said. “They have wine, we have cannabis.”
None of the Sanctuary of the Rastafarian Order Ministry locations are officially licensed to sell pot. Holmes flouts federal laws by growing and distributing his own cannabis without a producer or retail licence. Holmes, who has run dispensaries in the past, was one of more than a dozen people arrested during a police raid at a B.C. pot farm in 2015, but was never charged.
In online reviews, many describe Sanctuary of the Rastafarian Order Ministry locations as dispensaries, offering a wide selection of dried cannabis flowers, CBD oils and edibles — which are still illegal for sale in Canada — available to purchase.
Legal experts say its uncertain how a court would interpret the freedom of religion argument should Holmes and the Sanctuary of the Rastafarian Order Ministry wind up facing charges.
“To the police and the City of Toronto, I’d appreciate it if you guys came to service,” Holmes told CBC Toronto.
“If you find that we’re doing something illegal, then come get us.”
Wine analogy doesn’t work, legal expert says
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Toronto police did not say if they consider the church’s operations illegal.
“The Toronto Police Service in not in a position to speculate on what happens inside the Sanctuary of Rastafarian Order Ministry,” said Const. Caroline de Kloet. “If someone wants to report illegal activity they can contact police.”
Anna Su, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, says she’s not confident the ministry would prevail in court.