Church of Cannabis Uses Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law to Challenge Anti-Marijuana Law

Saturday, July 11, 2015
Bill Levin (photo: Michael Conroy, AP)

Indiana’s religious freedom law was initially enacted to allow businesses a way to discriminate against LGBT customers. When Indiana became the focus of protests, the law was changed to prevent discrimination against customers based on sexual orientation, but now it’s being used by a church to challenge the state’s prohibition against marijuana.


The First Church of Cannabis and its founder and Grand Poobah Bill Levin have filed suit under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (pdf) (RFRA) claiming the state’s drug laws are putting an undue burden on his parishioners’ ability to practice their religion, which includes using pot during services.


“The aforementioned statues have substantially burdened and may substantially burden Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion in that Plaintiffs are in a position to be prosecuted for the described offenses for use of the sacrament of their religion,” the complaint states, according to Courthouse News Service. Marijuana “brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression,” according to the suit. 


Both the church services and this latest iteration of RFRA are relatively new. The lawsuit was filed only hours before the church’s second-ever public service. The revised RFRA law went into effect on July 1, the date of the church’s debut service.


The Indianapolis church has not used marijuana in its services yet, but “there’s going to come a time, baby,” as Levin told his flock at the conclusion of one service, according to the Indianapolis Star. The services have drawn increased police presence in the area around the church.


Levin told The Washington Post that embracing marijuana doesn’t mean that anything goes. In fact, he has drawn a strict line for the types of substances that may be used on church grounds. Drinking alcohol is forbidden, and he plans to set up an Alcoholics Anonymous group on the premises, as well as counseling for heroin addicts.


The church has a long road before its members will be able to take part in the sacrament of smoking marijuana. Attorneys say the church will have to prove it’s an actual religious belief that requires the use of marijuana and even then the state might still claim a compelling interest in enforcing anti-drug laws. It’s unclear whether the same scrutiny was to be applied to business owners claiming the right to discriminate against LGBT customers based on a religious belief.


So for now, First Church of Cannabis members will continue to sing, dance and listen to reggae-style music. But the only thing they’ll be passing is the collection plate.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Church of Cannabis Suit Raises Religious Liberty Issues (by Stephanie Wang and Michael Anthony Adams, Indianapolis Star)

Pot Church Invokes New Religious Freedom Law (by David Wells, Courthouse News Service)

Levin Files Suit Before 2nd Service Wednesday Evening (WRTV)

The First Church of Cannabis Was Approved After Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law Was Passed (by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post)


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