Judge dismisses Cannabis Church’s case that cited RFRA to defend pot as a sacrament
The First Church of Cannabis holds its first service to a packed house, sharing love and testimony while protesters state their opposition outside, Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
Bill Levin poses in the sanctuary at The First Church of Cannabis on June 23, 2015. The sanctuary includes a painting on the back wall of two hands passing a cannabis cigarette. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar) Buy Photo
The First Church of Cannabis went up in smoke in Marion Circuit Court.
A judge Friday dismissed the church’s 3-year-old case against the city and state that contended the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, protected the use of marijuana as a sacrament.
An attorney for the Indianapolis church said earlier in the week he would appeal if the church lost.
Bill Levin, the church’s founder and “Grand Poobah,” wrote on Facebook on Saturday, “It’s far from over. We are just getting started.”
In her order dismissing the case, judge Sheryl Lynch did not address the defense’s contention that the church’s members are insincere about practicing a religion.
She ruled that the city and state satisfied a crucial aspect of the RFRA law: showing the state had a “compelling interest” in not carving out a limited exception in marijuana laws.
“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,” she wrote.
If the church were allowed to use marijuana legally, the judge asked, would law enforcement officers have to make “case-by-case determinations during criminal investigations as to whether an individual’s religious beliefs legally justify” using the drug.
“It is compelling and appropriate,” she wrote, “to treat the illicit drug market in a unitary way.”
The church, which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit corporation, argued that the “government cannot determine what religious beliefs are to be protected.”
“Whether one agrees with the beliefs of the church is irrelevant. The church is a religious organization engaged in exercise of religion.”
Lynch, however, said the church failed to say who would supply the marijuana, how it would be consumed, where it would be stored and how it would be secured.
“Or even,” she added, “where the dividing line between ‘sacramental’ and recreational use might lie (if one exists).”
Attorney general Curtis Hill issued a news release praising the decision and saying the church is “a pro-marijuana political crusade that turned into a legal stunt.”
“I appreciate the court’s fidelity to both the law and to common sense,” Hill said. “Indiana’s laws against the possession, sale and use of marijuana protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers statewide. When the state has justifiable and compelling interests at stake, no one can evade the law simply by describing their illegal conduct as an exercise of religious faith.”
On Facebook on Saturday, Levin replied, “Cannabis is safer than Curtis Hill.”
Hill is facing calls for his resignation after four women alleged he touched them inappropriately during a party in March after the final day of the legislative session.
The church was introduced to much fanfare in July 2015 amid a heavy police presence and some protesters. Inside its doors, there was a band whose set included Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” dancing in the pews as congregants batted around balloons, testimonies of the benefits of marijuana and even a comedian.
Church members recited the “Diety Dozen,” a twist on the Ten Commandments, including “Don’t be a (jerk). Treat everyone with love as an equal”
There was not, however, marijuana at the church. At least not officially.
Levin said at the time that the church thought it would be best to contest the ban on marijuana in a civil lawsuit rather than in criminal court.
Levin still has an ongoing defamation lawsuit against former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Rick Hite. In the days before the church’s inaugural service, Hite compared Levin to Jim Jones, a 1970s cult leader who instigated a mass murder-suicide of more than 900 of his followers.
Levin called Hite “openly prejudiced about the birth of a new religion.”A judge dismissed the First Church of Cannabis' civil lawsuit that contended RFRA protects marijuana as a sacrament.
First Church of Cannabis
Homegrown in Indianapolis: The First Church of Cannabis
When one walks into the First Church of Cannabis, the sight of a traditional church does not greet him or her. Although the layout is similar, with wooden pews and an altar, the church-scene shifts when one sees the drum set behind the speaker’s podium, and the man-sized plant puppet next to it.
On the back wall is a rebooted version of Michelangelo’s famous painting, “The Creation of Adam,” except instead of just touching fingers, God is handing man a joint. There is even an old school toyshop in the basement, with old X-Men figures and Men In Black action figures. Everything about this church is untraditional, and Bill Levin likes it this way.
The Cannaterian Way
Following Bill’s life-changing out of body experience in Bangkok Taiwan (see video below for more on that), and then former Indiana governor Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom Act a few years later, Bill claims the “fertilizer was there” to start his religious organization. In Bill’s words, “there is no other religion that says you need to enjoy life and have fun. Most religions tell you you’re a sinner and imperfect, we just want you to enjoy life and love everybody.”
Contrary to myths that people may believe, one cannot actually smoke cannabis inside the church, rather, it is considered a sacrament and a healthy gift from God. Bill believes everyone should benefit from cannabis, using it for enjoyment, health reasons, or even using hemp as an organic textile or material.
You don’t have to include their sacrament though. In fact, one can become a cannaterian (one who follows the ways of the Church of Cannabis) without even partaking in the before-mentioned sacrament. They just need to have unconditional love for their neighbors. (and abide by the Deity Dozen)
Events & Giving at The First Church of Cannabis
Carrying on with Bill’s idea of having fun and loving everyone, events at the church are different than any other church. They have weekly movie nights, live music, comedy nights, and also regular services. The most amazing part about these events is the admission fee: there is none! Bill wants as many people to come as possible, and the Church only makes money through donations.
The people in the First Church of Cannabis’ congregation believe wholeheartedly in the donation spirit, often times giving hundreds of more items to charity than competing churches. Talking about a recent coat drive, Bill said, “the average church gives about a few hundred articles of clothing for these types of coat drives, and we came with bags containing about thirty-two hundred articles of clothing. The place was shocked. We just have a giving spirit.”
National & International Growth
The First Church of Cannabis is still growing, showing it’s not just a fad. Their pamphlet and information has been translated into twenty-seven different languages, including the language of Ebu, which is a nomadic tribe in Nigeria. People are buying into this movement, led by their eccentric and loving leader Bill. There are Jewish, Christian, Atheist, and many more people of different faiths that belong to the Church of Cannabis, all seeing the benefits of the pluralistic religion.
Whether you are an avid Cannabis fan, or just someone who believes in the enjoyment of life and the enjoyment of loving everyone, the First Church of Cannabis has something that will resonate with you.
And for you Hoosiers, it’s right in your backyard.Homegrown in Indianapolis: The First Church of Cannabis When one walks into the First Church of Cannabis, the sight of a traditional church does not greet him or her. Although the layout is similar, with wooden pews and an altar, the church-scene shif ]]>