California’s ‘High Priestess of Cannabis’ Arrested on Felony Charges

The head of a cannabis-worshipping Rastafarian church in Sacramento, California was arrested last week on a felony charge of conspiracy in conjunction with misdemeanor charges of marijuana cultivation and possession with intent to sell. It marks a problematic turn for one of the more interesting and controversial faces of marijuana advocacy in California and raises some interesting questions about marijuana and civil rights.

Rev. Heidi Grossman-Lepp, also known as Sparkles, was arrested on Oct. 3, just days after delivering a passionate speech before the Yuba County Board of Supervisors defending marijuana cultivation as a constitutionally-protected religious sacrament. The arrest also came two months after she placed a disturbance call to 911 that eventually culminated in a cannabis laborer’s shootout with police on her property. The laborer died.

The ‘priestess,’ who runs the Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church with her husband Eddy, has been accused of skirting the law for profit and endangering the public under the guise of religious freedom. The shootout appears to have spurred local police to clamp down on Lepp’s activities once and for all.

Raids connected to the priestess took place in Tehama, Merced, Yolo, Madera and Calaveras counties during the months of August and September. The Lepps, who already have lawsuits pending against law enforcement and state officials, said the operations constituted a violation of their First Amendment rights.

As far as the local sheriffs are concerned, Sparkles is nothing but a pusher whose time has come.

“I’m the sheriff, she’s a drug dealer,” said Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke. “It’s putting lipstick on a pig.”