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Minister seeks return of peyote seized in Santa Rosa

  • Rev. David Marbain, of the Native American Church, sings while playing a gourd rattle in Santa Rosa, Calif., on April 5, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

A minister in the North Coast chapter of the Native American Church says his right to religious freedom was violated when sheriff's deputies seized mind-altering peyote from his home during a raid on indoor pot gardens.

Former Santa Rosa resident David Marbain, 56, is seeking the return of nearly 5 pounds of the dried cactus known for its hallucinogenic effects as well as 27 live plants that were taken in the 2010 sweep.

Marbain insists it was legal for him to have the natural source of the drug mescaline because it is sacramental medicine that was being used for religious purposes.

Native American Minister

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He's calling on the Sheriff's Office to give it back so he can continue to use it or dispose of it according to Indian tradition.

"Peyote has been used in Native American rituals for many thousands of years," said Marbain, who traces his roots to the Mohawk Indians. "It's central to our ceremonies in the Native American Church. It's our sacrament."

The North Coast chapter of the national organization has about 50 members, church officials said.

But Sonoma County prosecutors are opposing the release, saying the peyote is contraband and not subject to First Amendment protections.

Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson said in court papers that it is listed as a controlled substance, making its possession and cultivation illegal.

She said it is not exempt because it is viewed by some as religious or sacramental.

"To return the peyote to the defendant or anyone, even a holy person from his tribe, would be improper, as it would be a court-sanctioned violation of the laws of the state," she said in opposition papers filed in February.


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