Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"First Church of Cannabis" moves quickly to take advantage of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law

As reported in this Huffington Post article, there is an interesting new cannabis angle on the new law in Indiana that is stirring up much controversy.  Here are the details:

Indiana's new "religious freedom" law has been widely criticized and condemned by many, but an innovative marijuana activist in the state is using the bill's legal protections as a means to set up a new religious sect -- the First Church of Cannabis, where members would aim to use marijuana freely as a sacrament in a state where the substance remains banned.

"It's a new religion for people who happen to live in our day and age," Bill Levin, the church's founder, told The Huffington Post in an interview Monday.  "All these old religions, guys walking across the desert without Dr. Scholls inserts, drinking wine out of goat bladders, no compass, speaking Latin and Hebrew -- I cannot relate to that shit.  I drive by Burger Kings, bars and corn fields. I cannot relate to an antique magic book."

As Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act last Thursday, Levin was filing church registration paperwork with the secretary of state, which was approved on Friday, he announced on the church's Facebook page.

Levin is dead-serious about his new church.  He says it's founded on universal principals of love, respect, equality and compassion.  And similarly to other religious movements like the Rastafarians in Jamaica who see cannabis use as a sacrament, Levin said members of his church will adopt a similar belief in the plant. But unlike the Rastas, there is not a traditional deity at the top of this faith....

Levin is strongly against his state's controversial RFRA, but he said he'll take full advantage of the legal loopholes the bill may create. No stranger to marijuana advocacy, Levin has worked for years to change the laws in his home state through an organization he founded, Relegalize Indiana. "I fought this bill tooth and nail," Levin said. "And because of our brave and brilliant governor," he continued, his voice brimming with sarcasm, "he opened up the door for me to take my campaign to religion. The state will not interfere with religious belief -- well buddy, my religious belief is green with red hairs, and boy do I like to smoke it."

Marijuana is still illegal in Indiana, so it remains unclear if Levin's plan would work under current state laws. While a church that includes sacramental marijuana use is not without precedent, and several have emerged in the United States with varying degrees of success, much of their ability to survive hinges on a state at least decriminalizing marijuana, if not legalizing it for limited purpose. But Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, an Indiana attorney and political commentator, told RawStory that if Levin can convince the state that, under the RFRA, smoking marijuana is part of his religion's practices, he may have "a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”

Levin says the announcement of the church has created a firestorm of interest and support. He set up a crowdfunding account last week when the church first received notice that its registration was approved by the state, and as of Monday morning, the church had already raised close to $2,000. He also says that he has personally received thousands of messages of support, and hundreds of people ready to volunteer to help him with his mission. The church's Facebook page, set up just days ago, already has more than 5,000 likes.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2015/03/first-church-of-cannabis-moves-quickly-to-take-advantage-of-indianas-controversial-religious-freedom.html

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Comments

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Thanks Douglas for your very informative article.

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