A unique religious organization found that not all religious freedom laws apply when it comes to holy sacraments if they’re federally illegal. The sacrament in question? Cannabis.
In her ruling July 6, 2018, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Sheryl Lynch ruled that Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis cannot use cannabis in its services, stating that “the undisputed evidence demonstrates that permitting a religious exemption to laws that prohibit the use and possession of marijuana would hinder drug enforcement efforts statewide and negatively impact public health and safety.”
First Church of Cannabis, founded in March 2015 following the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), had filed a lawsuit against Indiana shortly after becoming officially recognized as a religion. The Church’s case contended that Indiana’s RFRA, if followed to the letter, should allow them to have a religious exemption from state and local marijuana laws.
“We’d already won half the case when the court ruled that we are an official religion,” Bill Levin, founder and Grand Poobah of the Church, told Marijuana.com. “Now, they’re saying they don’t like our religion.”
From its establishment, the church has been in a legal battle with the state, arguing that the ban on cannabis violates their members’ religious freedom.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, From Same-sex Wedding Cake to Weed as Holy Sacrament
The 2015 RFRA legislation, passed when Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, asserts that the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The law gave business owners who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons the right to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender customers. The law was passed shortly after controversy surrounding an Indianapolis baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple the previous year.
Civil rights groups, the LGBTQ community and other businesses, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, were furious with the RFRA, which Pence signed behind closed doors; some groups threatened to boycott the state.
The Church of Cannabis, however, used the decision as a way of getting around Indiana’s strict drug laws.
Levin explained that the Church has its own “Deity Dozen” version of the Ten Commandments, in which cannabis, “the Healing Plant,” is their sacrament and therefore protected under the RFRA.
“What the courts are saying now is that not all religions are created equal,” said Levin. “The state can use religion to protect homophobia but not to protect our right to use cannabis as part of our religion.”
The decision was praised by Indiana’s Attorney General Curtis Hill, who said “no one can evade the law simply by describing their illegal conduct as an exercise of religious faith.”
Levin, 63, laughed at Hill’s ’s remarks: “I’d make a bumper sticker saying ‘Cannabis is safer than Curtis Hill,’ except that he probably won’t be in office for much longer.” Levin was referringto sexual misconduct allegations against Hill. The attorney general was accused of inappropriately touching four women in an Indianapolis bar in March 2018, and the Indianapolis Star reported that Hill faces an Inspector General investigation. Hill said he is innocent. The attorney general’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“The upside is we’re an official religion,” Levin said. “Cannaterians are here to stay, even if we have to practice our faith underground, like so many great religions have done before us.”
Levin told Marijuana.com that the Church of Cannabis has combined all the prayers of the world’s religions into three words: I love you.
“I wish people would say ‘I love you’ as often as they used swear words,” Levin said.
These days, however, Levin’s words are a bit more combative: “See you in court. We’re definitely appealing this decision.”