Indiana Judge Rejects Cannabis Church Appeal For Marijuana Sacrament
By Roger Malespin photo/istock/AndyKleinPhotography
A judge in Indiana has rejected the case of the First Church of Cannabis which would allow them to smoke marijuana as a religious sacrament. Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Lynch said, in part, that the state has a “compelling interest to regulate marijuana and therefore marijuana is not protected under the RFRA.” Indiana has some of the strictest cannabis laws in the country, allowing as of July 1st of last year medical cannabis for conditions with severe seizures only.
For those that do not know, The First Church of Cannabis is based in Indianapolis and was founded in 2015 by Bill Levin, who titles himself the Grand Poobah of the church. Its formation was in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been criticized as discriminatory. Levin argues that if other businesses can exercise religious freedom in the form of denying services, he and his followers can smoke marijuana if it is part of their religious faith without government interference.
The case goes back 3 years, when the church held its first service the same day the RFFA went into effect. They were planning to smoke during the service, but legal threats put a stop to it. In response, the church sued the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana for religious discrimination. Judge Lynch said the church was allowed to operate as a non profit church, so long as they didn’t smoke or sell marijuana during services.
In the judge’s defense, there was little she could do because of the state laws prohibiting cannabis for almost any reason. Her reasoning that the church could become a target for gangs or thieves is solid because there is much less deterrent for them than if the church was a state protected entity. Additionally, it would open up anyone caught smoking to religious exemption defense, which would be far too convoluted within the current law and would clog the state legal system with frivolous cases.
Levin says his church is dedicated to ‘love, understanding, and good health, and smoking marijuana’. "God loves us and we're gonna celebrate God,” Levin told RTV6 news a month before the church opened in 2015. “We spark up and we light up and we all pray to happiness, compassion and love and we all dance in the seats and we have a good time and the band will play and everybody will feel beautiful.”
First Church of Cannabis might be looked at as a joke by some and as an example of real life trolling by others. Neither opinion is without merit, but the church represents an important aspect of the legalization movement overall - can individual or religious rights that warrant special protections be extended to cannabis?
In order for judges to recognize cannabis as in individual right, they must first have a state or federal law that allows them to interpret it as one. The reason the church lost the lawsuit was not because of a judge but because of the draconian cannabis laws Indiana lawmakers passed despite the majority of people not agreeing with it. It’s important to keep pressure on Indiana lawmakers to listen to their citizens - the legalization movement is only getting stronger and they can’t ignore it for much longer.