Crime - Sacto 911

Church or pot shop? In Roseville, police say it’s the latter

Police have arrested two brothers they say used a church as a front to sell marijuana in Roseville.

The Roseville Police Department arrested Zamrai and Karemullah Popal, 36 and 27 years old, on Dec. 22 after raiding the Temple of Healing and Meditation as well as the brothers’ home in Gold River. The church, which police described as “nothing more than an illicit retailer of marijuana and concentrated marijuana products” in a media release distributed Tuesday, has been targeted by the city of Roseville since its late October opening in a shopping center off Interstate 80.

The city sent a cease-and-desist letter to the temple on Oct. 31, according to the Roseville Press-Tribune. Three days later, attorney Cristian Peirano wrote back on the Popals’ behalf, arguing that federal law permitted the temple to distribute its sacrament to members of its congregation.

The Popals have previously described their church as “Christian Zen” and claimed marijuana consumption is an integral part of their prayer process. The Temple of Healing and Meditation’s congregation boasts more than 300 members, they told the Press-Enterprise, who make donations to the church in exchange for marijuana.

Police arrested the brothers on suspicion of possessing and transporting marijuana for sale, maintaining a place to sell drugs and conspiracy, and seized slightly less than $40,000 in cash as well as $50,000-$80,000 in products. The Popals were booked into South Placer Jail but have since been released.

Police said the temple’s illicit business was advertised on the internet as a weed shop open to any paying customers. The Temple of Healing and Meditation shows up as a marijuana dispensary on the website, a Yelp-like site where users can add or review “green” businesses.

Roseville’s municipal code bars commercial marijuana sales and growth within city limits. Police said the Temple of Healing and Meditation’s facilities wouldn’t meet state standards for a legal dispensary even in a laxer city, though they did not specify where the church fell short.

A Rastafarian church’s marijuana garden caretaker was killed in a firefight with Yuba County sheriff’s deputies last summer. The church’s leader was later arrested on charges related to marijuana growth and sales.

Benjy Egel: 916-321-1052, @BenjyEgel