Tuesday, June 30, 2020
The Wall Street Journal had this recent lengthy article exploring the intersection of marijuana reforms and religious leaders. The piece is headlined "The Word of God in the Age of Legal Marijuana" and this subheadline highlights it themes: "As more believers begin to tolerate legalization, current and former religious leaders find themselves in the middle of a debate over health, race and law enforcement." Here are excerpts:
When it comes to marijuana legalization ... some faith leaders ... are weighing the damage the drug can do against the number of people, especially people of color, sent to prison because of it, and the benefits it can provide those in physical pain.
Polls suggest that public tolerance of the drug has gone mainstream, even in religious communities. A September survey by the Pew Research Center found that 67% of the 2,480 Americans asked spoke in favor of legalizing cannabis, up from 31% in 2000. The survey found a majority in favor among several religious denominations. Even evangelicals polled slightly in favor, with 50% saying yes and 49% no....
Plenty of absolutists remain among American clergy. Dr. Russell Moore is an evangelical theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination’s public-policy arm. He’s also a prominent marijuana critic.
He stands against legalization or decriminalization because he says marijuana is neither medicine nor a harmless recreational drug, and pro-legalization forces are backed by a profit-driven industry. He calls marijuana legalization “unwise and even disastrous.” Dr. Moore, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., says he has counseled people with various addictions, including marijuana. He says he sees religious leaders on the front lines of fighting marijuana and the harm it does to families, children and young adults. “Most of the young evangelicals I know seek to minister to friends who have been harmed by marijuana culture,” he says. “This isn’t theoretical to them at all.”
But other religious leaders find themselves in a position that would have seemed unthinkable in decades past. Like Dr. Moore, Pastor Jamal Bryant is a clergyman with a large following and a share of critics that comes with that kind of profile. He leads New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, an Atlanta-area African-American megachurch with 10,000 parishioners and an online viewership of more than 90,000. It hosted the funeral of Coretta Scott King.
The pastor has created a line of cannabidiol (also known as CBD) oil-based products called Canna Blessed, organized as an LLC in Georgia. Selling small amounts of the substance can be legal — it contains no THC, an ingredient in marijuana that provides a high. CBD has been shown to be helpful in treating some conditions, including certain types of epilepsy, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization.
Pastor Bryant wants to sell Canna Blessed in church bookstores. If THC products became legal in Georgia, he would be open to selling them, too. “I’m not telling you God said for you to take it,” he says. But if it helps someone in the choir manage a health condition, he says the church should provide it.
Pastor Jamal Bryant says that by entering the cannabis industry he can model generational wealth for his church, congregation and community. He insists he won’t be “getting zooted on the roof of the church” or giving out cannabis as communion. Instead he says he wants to raise awareness about holistic medicine and entrepreneurial opportunities he intends to model for his church community. “That would really begin a larger conversation that we really need to have,” he says. “And I don’t think it can happen until it’s in our faces.”
Rev. Alexander Sharp, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy in Chicago, views the question in more political terms. He supports adult recreational use and criminal-justice reform. And since the drug can relieve pain, he argues that legalization is an act of compassion and mercy — one that follows the example of Jesus Christ. “The only thing that made Jesus really angry were the Pharisees that were hypocrites,” he says. “And there are pharisaical attitudes in those who oppose drug use.”
Rev. Sharp hopes to witness an end to the war on drugs. He believes regulation and education are the best responses to human vices, but also says the most compelling argument is for social justice. “You can pick your numbers according to your state, but African-Americans and Latinos are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses,” he says.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
The last of four exciting presentations planned this week for my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar concerns the intersection of marijuana use and religion claims. Here is how my student describes her project along with her selected background reading:
Since its founding, religious freedom has remained a core value of the United States. Recently, small groups of individuals have tried to apply this core value to the use of cannabis, specifically with establishing “cannabis churches.” These churches offer congregants a space to come together as a community and consume cannabis as a way to experience a new level of spirituality. Cannabis churches have popped up in both states where recreational consumption is legal (in Colorado, for example) and in states where recreational consumption is illegal (Indiana).
In Colorado, the founders of the International Church of Cannabis have been charged with public consumption. In Indiana, the founder of the First Church of Cannabis asserts that his church is protected under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As more cannabis churches are established in other states, the main question that church founders will need to answer is whether the use of cannabis is a sincerely held religious belief deserving of protection.
Saturday, June 9, 2018
This recent article from Religion News Service, headlined "In red-state Oklahoma, marijuana ballot question splits people of faith," provides a great look at the range of perspectives on marijuana reform in Oklahoma with only weeks before a big initiative vote. Here are snippets from an article worth reading in full:
As Presbyterian minister Bobby Griffith sees it, legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma could help arthritis sufferers with chronic pain and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The 41-year-old husband and father has a personal reason, too, for supporting State Question 788 — a pro-marijuana initiative that the Bible Belt state’s voters will decide June 26. “For myself, I would be interested in a prescription for it to see if it works better than my anxiety and depression medications,” said Griffith, co-pastor of a Presbyterian church near downtown Oklahoma City and a member of the national group Clergy for a New Drug Policy.
As Griffith characterizes it, the Oklahoma ballot measure’s potential to improve health outcomes and reduce dependence on addictive opioid painkillers makes it a “moral issue.”
Religious opponents counter that backing the issue would be immoral. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, blasts the ballot measure as a “recreational marijuana vote disguised as medical marijuana.”
“The moral issue to me is really a family issue,” Lankford, who directed a Baptist youth camp before his 2010 election to Congress, told Religion News Service. “The best thing for our state is not to get more parents and grandparents to smoke marijuana,” added the senator, who filmed a commercial urging voters to reject State Question 788. “To have our communities more drug-addicted and distracted, that doesn’t help our families. It doesn’t make us more prosperous. It doesn’t make our schools more successful.”...
[F]aith arguments are prominent in a state where three out of four residents describe themselves in Gallup polling as “moderately religious” or “very religious.” The vote — which will take place on the state’s primary day for governor and other state and federal offices — resulted from a petition signed by nearly 68,000 voters and presented to state officials two years ago.
If State Question 788 passes, Abner warns, Oklahoma could follow the nine states that have authorized recreational use of marijuana. “The key thing is that it’s not medical,” he said. “This is something that’s hiding behind that (terminology) to bring recreational marijuana to Oklahoma. And from a spiritual standpoint, none of us can sustain the sound minds and healthy bodies God desires us to have when we place ourselves under the controlling influence of something other than the Holy Spirit.”
Other religious opponents include top officials of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma — representing the state’s roughly 577,000 Southern Baptists — and the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, the public policy arm of the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses, comprising roughly 288,000 parishioners. “My hope is that Oklahoma will vote down marijuana legalization and continue to put legal barriers between addiction and the communities it devastates,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement published by The Baptist Messenger, an Oklahoma newspaper.
But Jon Middendorf, senior pastor of Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, said he favors “whatever can bring relief to folks who are in chronic pain.”
“I’m just exhausted of conspiracy theories that always seem to emanate from the Christian right,” said Middendorf, who stressed that he was speaking personally and not on behalf of his congregation. “There’s always some sinister story behind it all,” he added. “It really might be that somebody who’s in pain just needs something that hasn’t been tried just yet, that offers some help for relief and quality of life, that they would not have had otherwise.”...
Typically, Oklahomans rank among the most conservative voters in the nation.... But on the medical marijuana issue, recent polling shows State Question 788 enjoying support from 57.5 percent of voters and seeming likely to pass, reported Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com.
“We’ve polled this issue multiple times over the last five years, and we continue to see that certain groups, who one might think would be opposed to SQ788, continue to support it,” Shapard said in a statement. “Thirty years ago, these groups would have opposed it, but roughly half have changed their minds since then.”
Griffith, whose congregation is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, said some of his most conservative friends support State Question 788. “A very conservative person I know — I mean, she loves President Trump but she also wants medical marijuana,” he said. “She has rheumatoid arthritis and wants to have something that helps relieve the pain and has some healing qualities about it without the addiction.”
Notably, this article was published before Prez Trump's comments this past Friday suggesting he would support a federal marijuana reform bill that would formally respect state marijuana reform laws. I suggested in this post a few months ago that proponents of Question 788 likely could benefit greatly, given that 65% of the state voted for Prez Trump, if they could claim he was supportive of state marijuana reform efforts. interesting times.
Some prior related posts:
- Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative set for June vote
- Will Prez Trump's pledge to safeguard states' marijuana reforms boost Oklahoma's medical marijuana initiative?
June 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, December 24, 2017
This prior post discussed holiday gifting of marijuana, and this article (which has a headline serving as part of the title of this post) provides another distinctive seasonable perspective on how modern marijuana reform echoes through various parts of modern life. Here are highlights:
Services at the Coachella Valley Church begin and end with the Lord’s Prayer. In between, there is the sacrament. “Breathe deep and blow harder,” intoned Pastor Grant Atwell after distributing marijuana joints to 20 worshipers on a recent Sunday. “Nail the insight down, whether you get it from marijuana or prayer. Consider what in your own life you are thankful for.”
A man wearing a “Jesus Loves You” baseball cap and toting a shofar, piped up. “Thank you, God, for the weed,” he called out. “I’m thankful for the spirit of cannabis,” a woman echoed from the back. “I am grateful to be alive,” said another young woman, adding that she had recently overdosed — on what, she did not say — for the third time. The small room, painted black and gold and decorated with crosses and Rastafarian symbols, filled with pungent smoke after an hour-long service of Christian prayers, self-help slogans and inspirational quotes led by Atwell, a Campbell, Calif., massage therapist and photographer.
Despite its mainstream Christian trappings, the Coachella Valley Church describes itself as a Rastafarian church, which is tough to define. Originating in Jamaica and combining elements of Christianity, pan-Africanism and mysticism, Rastafari is a political and religious movement with no central authority. Adherents use marijuana in their rituals. The church’s leaders claim that religious freedom laws give them the right to offer marijuana to visitors without a doctor’s recommendation or abiding by regulations. Some authorities beg to differ.
As more states ease access to marijuana, churches that offer pot as a sacrament are proliferating, competing with medical marijuana dispensaries and pot shops in the few states that have legalized recreational weed. While some claim Rastafari affiliation, others link themselves to Native American religious traditions.
The churches are vexing local officials, who say they’re simply dispensaries in disguise, skirting the rules that govern other marijuana providers, such as requirements to pay taxes.
In California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and is preparing for sales of recreational marijuana to begin Jan. 1, churches tied to marijuana use have recently popped up in Oakland, Roseville, Modesto and San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. A few have been shut down by law enforcement. “I’m not going to say they’re not churches, but to the extent that they’re distributing marijuana, they’re an illegal dispensary, in my view,” said San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle....
Nationally, such churches have opened in Indiana, where marijuana remains illegal, and Michigan, where medical marijuana is allowed. Even in Colorado, which legalized pot in 2012, the “International Church of Cannabis” is testing the limits of state and city rules on consuming marijuana in public. Marijuana churches typically require people to purchase a membership, then give or sell them marijuana and related products. They may ask for ID such as a driver’s license but don’t require a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana identification card.
The churches rely on court rulings that made it possible for some groups, including Native Americans, to use federally banned drugs like peyote in religious ceremonies. Despite these rulings, courts have thus far rejected religious groups’ right to use marijuana, still illegal at the federal level, said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor specializing in religious liberty issues. Yet, he said, as more states legalize marijuana, courts may regard marijuana churches’ rights more favorably.
“Legalization changes everything,” Laycock said. “Religious use may not violate state law in some of these states. And if it does, legalizing recreational use but not religious use clearly discriminates against religion.”
December 24, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This lengthy new BuzzFeed News article, headlined ""Can Cannabis And Christ Coexist? These Devout Southern Christians Think So," provides am interesting and effectively review of some issues that arise at the intersection of marijuana reform and religion. I recommend the piece in full, and here are some extended excerpts:
Lydia Decker couldn’t miss the man in the motorized wheelchair as he whirred down the aisles of a West Texas grocery store. As someone with lung problems herself, she noticed his oxygen tank and wondered about his illness and his meds. They got talking, and Decker mentioned Genesis 1:29, the organization she heads that uses religion to preach the value of medical cannabis. This was one conversion that wasn't going to happen.
“Oh, that trash!” Decker remembered the man saying as she tried to reason with him in the pharmacy aisle. The nurse with the man “politely” asked Decker, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to leave. She did, but not before handing the nurse a Genesis 1:29 business card, which features a map of Texas covered with a large cannabis leaf and the words “One Mission End Prohibition!”...
Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she's endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”
Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.
Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May. “People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,'” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”
The South is the last frontier for cannabis law reform. And it is no coincidence that it is also the most religious region in the country, according to Pew Research. It’s a place where interpretations of God’s word can be as powerful as law, and where preachers have long proclaimed the evils of marijuana. So as pot takes hold for medical use in more than half the country, and for recreational use in eight states and Washington, DC, both are nonstarters in much of the South. Only Arkansas, Florida, and West Virginia have full medical marijuana programs, and recreational use is not even on the horizon.
The president of the organization that represents the largest evangelical group in the US won’t budge on calling marijuana a sin. “The scripture speaks against drunkenness, and marijuana is a mind-altering substance with the purpose of achieving, essentially, what the Bible would describe as drunkenness,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
To get the votes they need, pro-legalization groups can't just preach to nonbelievers; they also need to court people of faith, says Morgan Fox of Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying group that is behind most of the cannabis laws in the country. Support from religious groups has become as key as support from law enforcement groups, addiction specialists, and parent groups. “I know that most of the major policy reform organizations are working on that right now — trying to build coalitions with faith-based groups,” Fox said.
After all, marijuana has never been more popular with young people — recent polls show the 18–34 crowd overwhelmingly in support of legalization. At the same time, young people’s church attendance is dropping. As much as pro-pot groups need religious support, religious leaders need to hold onto their flocks, and sometimes that means loosening opinions on controversial issues.
In Utah last year, the Church of Latter-day Saints weighed in on competing medical cannabis bills and made the unprecedented move of expressing support for one, albeit by backing the stricter of two pieces of legislation. And a group of Muslim undergraduate students at the University of South Florida, where medical marijuana was on the state ballot, tackled the question of whether cannabis use is haram last year during an event called "Contemporary Issues in Islam: A Discussion on Medical Marijuana.” Some faiths have expressed varying degrees of support for medical marijuana, including the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Unitarian churches. In New York, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries had the cannabis blessed by a rabbi. And globally, to respect the traditional use of cannabis by Rastafarians, Jamaica legalized cannabis for religious use in 2015.
But to bring cannabis to the region of the US where states are deeply red and religious and where pot is both a social taboo and a ticket to jail, Decker and others are harnessing their devotion to their faiths to evangelize for it....
Still, religious opposition continues to influence drug policy throughout the region. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke out against the nine legalization initiatives put before voters in November. “I think when it comes to marijuana I’m, of course, for criminal penalties for marijuana use and for continuing criminalization of marijuana,” Moore told BuzzFeed News, specifying, though, that he is not in favor of the “incoherent mass incarceration that we’ve had as a result of the drug war.”
The Catholic Church has also come out against legalization; in 2014, Pope Francis remarked that "drug addiction is an evil” and “attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called 'recreational drugs,' are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.” The Catholic diocese in Arizona and Massachusetts came out against legalization in fall 2016. While this “didn’t swing the pendulum in Massachusetts,” where legalization squeaked through in November, “it very well could have in Arizona,” where legalization failed, Fox said.
May 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion | Permalink | Comments (16)
Friday, September 30, 2016
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting article reporting on some interesting new research. Here are the details:
People who believe that the Bible should be taken as the literal word of God may be much less likely to support the legalization of marijuana than those who believe the Bible is a book of moral fables, according to a new study.
The study found that people who reported in national surveys that they believed that the Bible is God's word were 58 percent less likely to also say they support marijuana legalization, compared with people who thought the Bible is a book of fables and should not be taken literally. In addition, the more frequently that people attended religious services, the less likely they were to support marijuana legalization, the study found.
However, the extent to which people considered themselves to be religious was not a significant predictor of their views on marijuana legalization, said study author Daniel Krystosek, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Nevada. The results show that the relationship between people's religiousness and their views on marijuana legalization is complex, according to the study, published Sept. 3 in the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice [available here].
In the study, Krystosek pooled data from three years of national surveys that included a total of about 3,800 people in the U.S. The surveys were conducted in 2006, 2008 and 2010 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The surveys included questions about whether people thought that marijuana should be legal. The surveys also asked how often people attended religious services, to what extent they considered themselves to be religious, how often they prayed, and whether they thought that the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally or whether it is an ancient book of fables that should not be interpreted literally....
In the study, he also found that people with conservative political views were about 53 percent less likely to support marijuana legalization, compared with people with liberal views. People who had moderate views were 37 percent less likely to support marijuana legalization, compared with people with liberal views....
The older the people in the study, the less likely they were to support marijuana legalization. "As people get older, they start families, and many parents do not want their children experimenting with drugs," Krystosek wrote in the study. "Therefore, they might oppose the legalization of marijuana."
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Daily News article, which discussses the interesting work of the Sisters of the Valley in Merced, California, and the impact that new state laws on medical marijuana could have. Here are the basic details:
Holy smokes — these nuns are really working for a higher power! The Sisters of the Valley in Merced, Calif., grow medicinal marijuana in their garage for various pot-laced health products.
While Sisters Kate and Darcy don traditional habits, they are not Catholic. But they still consider themselves nuns with a calling to heal the sick — with pot. “We spend no time on bended knee, but when we make our medicine it’s a prayerful environment. It’s a prayerful time,” Kate told KFSN-TV.
While medicinal pot is legal in California, bills signed into law this past fall allow local governments to restrict or ban marijuana growing and dispensing. Pot advocates hope local jurisdictions will want to partake of tax revenue. But some municipalities — such as Merced, a conservative town in agricultural Central California — have enacted bans on pot production.
So this sisterhood might need to find a new place by March 1, when the new state and local laws take effect. Kate and Darcy said their products include cannabidiol but only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that provides pot’s high.
When I discussed this story with a very smart colleague, she suggested that consumers of the marijuana products produced by Sisters of the Valley might find it especially difficult to kick the habit. Jokes aside, one of the common consequences of having more big government regulation of medical marijuana is the tendency, as suggested in this story, to make it even hard for small producers to stay in business. Apparently, this can be true even if you have a holy partnership.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The question in the title of this post is my cheeky reaction to this somewhat amusing (but still serious) story emerging from Minnesota. The piece is headlined "Defendant cites membership in First Church of Cannabis for pot use: She says smoking doesn't violate her probation because of her 'sincerely held' religious beliefs," and here are the details:
A Golden Valley woman is asking the courts to allow her to smoke marijuana for religious reasons — because she belongs to the First Church of Cannabis.
Through her lawyer, 31-year-old Ashley Firnschild is arguing to the Hennepin County District Court that the weed’s illegality places an “undue burden” on her “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a member of the Indiana-based church established earlier this year. The case is coming before the court because Firnschild is alleged to have smoked the weed in violation of a condition of her probation for a drug charge.
Firnschild’s use of marijuana is based on “guidance in the philosophies of her church” and her embrace of the church’s mission “establishes her dedication and sincerity to such ideologies,” the motion said.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that selling, possessing or smoking marijuana is not a First Amendment right. “Other folks have argued this in the past, unsuccessfully,” he said. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this case of possession of a large amount of marijuana.”
Oral arguments on Firnschild’s motion are scheduled for Oct. 1. Firnschild’s lawyer, Camille Bryant, is arguing her case under the Minnesota Constitution, which provides greater religious freedom protections than the federal Constitution.
Although Firnschild’s argument is uncommon, the legal analysis is complicated, according to one Twin Cities law professor who cited multiple state cases where individuals have been allowed to exercise their religious convictions even though they violated state laws.
In 2014, Firnschild pleaded guilty to fifth-degree drug possession and was sentenced to community service and probation. The previous year, police had searched her home after Hennepin County Child Protection Services alerted them to a potential marijuana-growing operation in her basement. Police found such operations in the basement and attic. Firnschild said the drug was for personal use.
Last summer, Firnschild’s probation officer alerted the court to a possible violation of her probation for smoking marijuana. Rather than admit to a violation, Firnschild is arguing that her religious freedom is at stake.
The church’s mission statement calls cannabis “the healing plant” and a staple of sacrament. Members are neither required nor requested to smoke the weed, but to “embrace cannabis and hemp for betterment of the world, including medical, industrial, fuel, oil and housing,” the motion said, quoting the church doctrine. By prohibiting her from smoking marijuana, the motion said, “she cannot adhere to the principal ideologies of her church, namely the positivity cannabis provides to the world.”
Her lawyer argues the state can’t demonstrate a “compelling interest” in banning her use of marijuana. Firnschild’s use hasn’t created a danger to the “peace or safety of the public,” nor have there been complaints, the motion said.
Michael Steenson, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, said the court will balance the state’s interest in controlling marijuana use with Firnschild’s individual right.
State courts have been reluctant to explore whether a religious belief is sincerely held. In a 1989 case, an Amish family was given traffic citations for refusing to use the brightly colored emblems signaling slow-moving vehicles because they weren’t willing to compromise their belief that the loud colors were worldly symbols. The state Supreme Court found that the family’s beliefs were sincerely held even though the Amish community as a whole wasn’t in agreement....
Steenson noted, as Firnschild’s memo did as well, that there is no alternative to smoking as a means to exercise her religion — either she can or can’t smoke marijuana. “You can see it isn’t all that simple,” he said.
Some prior related posts concerning the First Church of Cannabis:
- "First Church of Cannabis" moves quickly to take advantage of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law
- Will "First Church of Cannabis" really create a legal showdown in Indiana?
Sunday, June 28, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Indianapolis Star article headlined "Cops warn of arrests at Church of Cannabis." Here are some excerpts from a lengthy and interesting article:
The city's top law enforcements officials put the new First Church of Cannabis on notice Friday: Anyone who smokes marijuana at the inaugural service next week will face criminal charges.
The warning from Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Rick Hite "changes nothing," said Bill Levin, the church's founder, who pledged to move forward with plans for a service at noon Wednesday where marijuana will be smoked. "They haven't raised the stakes," Levin said. "These have been the stakes the whole time."
In fact, an arrest — or arrests — will spur the court fight that Levin wants. It is a legal battle that has been expected by nearly everyone, including Curry and Hite, who've watched the story of the controversial church unfold in the weeks since Gov. Pence signed Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Levin contends the use of marijuana in the church service is protected by RFRA, which limits government encroachment on religious freedoms. Curry said he believes the new law is ill-advised and problematic. That said, he also stressed that RFRA is not "a legitimate defense to committing a crime."
Hite said police can't ignore Levin flaunting the law under the guise of religion. That means everyone in attendance next week is subject to criminal charges, he said, even if they do not partake of the church's sacrament.
Curry said observers could be charged with visiting a common nuisance. Those who smoke the drug could be charged with possession of marijuana. Both charges are class B misdemeanors, which carry a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Curry and Hite said Friday they were announcing their plans in an effort to dissuade Levin and his followers from going through with wide-spread marijuana use at the service. Hite said his department would have police on the church property, including possibly inside the sanctuary itself. "I think it's important to know that we're not trying to create a police state," Hite said. "I think reasonably intelligent people will stay away, quite frankly. But as with any other events we happen to have in our city, we're prepared for it."
Curry listed six considerations he said he recently shared with Levin — and wants others who might attend the service to keep in mind. In addition to making arrests for those who possess or are simply in the presence of marijuana that is being used, Curry said, police will also be looking for impaired drivers, those with open warrants and those who are at the service in violation of a probation order. Curry also cautioned that minors should not be present if marijuana is being used, adding that such a violation has "numerous implications."
Curry and Hite said police and prosecutors are duty bound to uphold Indiana's drug laws and cannot ignore the event that has been widely promoted in the news and on social media. They also are disturbed that they have to expend valuable manpower on this event, when there are many other more pressing needs for law enforcement resources.
Curry added Levin's church is a direct result of the state's RFRA law, and renewed an earlier call for legislators to repeal the law which he sees as unneeded and the result of political posturing. "We anticipated that (RFRA) could be asserted as a defense to criminal prosecution," he said. "As with any defense, our office will address the argument within the context of the case in which it is presented."
The prosecutor said he has met twice with Levin to discuss alternatives to making mass arrests at the service next week, such as making his point on a smaller scale involving just one or two people challenging the law. "I understand completely that what (Levin) is doing is using RFRA as a vehicle to essentially advocate for what he's advocated for all along, and that is the legalization of marijuana," Curry said. "But until he and others convince the legislature otherwise, then it's a crime."
Curry also dismissed concerns that the attendees of next week's Church of Cannabis service would be treated differently than others who are cited for marijuana possession – though he added that the city's advance notice of the event did present a change in how they plan on enforcing the law. "Individuals are cited for criminal offenses when they are observed, whether it's at the Indy 500 or rock concerts," Curry said. "What is different here is that we've been given notice that this is going to occur. From our perspective, it would be entirely the wrong message that we would not react to that."
Hite said the church is not right for Indianapolis, adding he and his officers have talked to drug dealers who are "appalled" by the planned service next week. "Those who deal drugs for a living have said to us, 'Listen. We're trying to get out of the game. You're telling us to get out, chief,'" Hite explained. "How can we allow someone to willingly violate the law?"
Levin said he is unfazed by who might show up at the service Wednesday, including law enforcement officials "I don't have a problem with that," he said. "You want to come pray? Come pray. You better be on the guest list to get into the building, though, because we've already got this thing filled."
The church plans to have a tent to accommodate overflow from the relatively small church building. What Levin described as "ushers" — who sound more like security — will screen people entering the building. The church also will have legal representation on site for the inaugural service.
A woman at the church Friday, wearing a shirt with a peace symbol on it, scoffed at Curry's suggestion for Levin to scale down whatever might trigger a legal battle. "Bill doesn't do anything on a small scale," she said. "I've known him for 35 years."...
"I believe in religious freedom and I will never tell my congregants what not to do," Levin said. "I will warn them of what might happen. If you're on probation, they might nail you. If you're there with a kid, they might get CPS on you. … This is civil disobedience in its finest form while we're celebrating a beautiful birth of a new religion."
Levin appears to be doing as much as he can to protect the church legally. He has non-profit religious status certified by the Internal Revenue Service. He made sure the church building conforms to safety codes. He's not allowing anyone under 21 into the sanctuary, where marijuana will be smoked at the end of the ceremony. And he is not selling or distributing the drug; its a bring-your-own event.
While Levin said he would prefer that officials leave him and church members alone, he's not about to back down from a legal fight. "I'd just as soon not do it. Am I afraid of it? No. Not at all. I'm sorry, I'm right," he said. "I will defend my beliefs as long as it takes and as far as it takes."
Any decision the state makes on religious laws — including whether the First Church of Cannabis is a legitimate religion — "they're going to have to be very committed to, and that goes across the board," Levin said. "Because what's good for one religion is good for all."
Thursday, June 4, 2015
I have noticed that, in the course of robust modern debates over marijujana reform, religious issues and religous-based claims have been relatively absent. Consequently, this recent Chicago Tribune article, which carries the headline that I used as the title of my post, caught my eye. Here are excerpts:
The marijuana decriminalization bill that could soon go to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk has an array of supporters, including civil libertarians, prosecutors and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Its supporters also include clergy. Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis are lobbying lawmakers in Illinois and in states across the Northeast as part of a push toward legalization, which they see as a moral cause encompassing issues such as race, fair housing and employment.
To that end, the group, called Clergy for a New Drug Policy, is pushing for legislation to tax and regulate cannabis, refer individuals charged with drug-related crimes to treatment, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and support medical marijuana. "It's a primary change if something is decriminalized," said the Rev. Al Sharp, the Chicago pastor who launched the group this spring. "The goal is to change the culture of punishment in this country, which the war on drugs has contributed so thoroughly and so devastatingly to."
Sharp considers himself just as much a policy wonk as he is a pastor. As the former head of nonprofit agencies such as Protestants for the Common Good and the Community Renewal Society, groups founded as alternatives to the religious right, he has made lobbying for public policies such as more education funding and better housing his ministry.
These days, Sharp, who was ordained by the United Church of Christ, walks the corridors of state capitols preaching redemption. When legislators in Springfield recently approved a bill to remove criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession, replacing the threat of jail time and a criminal record with a sanction similar to a traffic ticket, Sharp and his fellow clergy claimed victory.
If the bill is signed into law, Illinois will join 17 other states in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a group that advocates the legal use of marijuana. Nearly half the country, including Illinois, already allows for the use of medical marijuana....
In 2002, the Unitarian Universalist Association became the first religious denomination to adopt a statement of conscience calling for an end to the nation's war on drugs and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. While no other denomination has called for such a radical policy change, many others, including the United Methodist Church, Union for Reform Judaism, Progressive National Baptist Convention and Episcopal Church, support the controlled use of marijuana for medical reasons....
While the precise language of Illinois' marijuana decriminalization bill is still a work in progress before it goes to Rauner's desk, it stipulates that low-level cannabis possession would no longer be a crime with fines of up to $2,500 and up to a year in a jail. Instead, those caught with 15 grams or less could pay a fine of up to $125, but cities like Chicago that already have fines in place for marijuana possession could keep their fee structures.
This website for the groug Clergy for a New Drug Policy is pretty impressive, and I think this might be a group to keep an eye on as marijuana reform and drug policy debates continue to garner attention in Illinois and nationwide.
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.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
The question in the title of this post is my (only slightly) tounge-in-cheek response to this Christian Post article headlined "Oklahoma Senator Quotes Genesis 1:29 to Seek Marijuana Legalization." Here are excerpts:
Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson announced the filing of a statewide initiative petition to legalize marijuana, telling supporters that the campaign is based on Genesis 1:29, which suggests that God created "this wonderful, miraculous plant."
"We're putting forth Genesis 1:29 as the basis of this campaign," KFOR.com quoted Sen. Johnson, a Democrat, as telling supporters at the State Capitol on Friday after filing the petition with the office of the Oklahoma secretary of state.
"God created this wonderful, miraculous plant and we know that it has been vilified for the last 100 years, and it's time to change that in Oklahoma," added the senator, who has led efforts, along with attorney David Slane, to legalize pot. The advocates of marijuana will require 160,000 signatures from registered voters within three months to get the proposal on a statewide ballot....
The petition states that up to one ounce of marijuana should be allowed for recreational use, and three ounces for medical reasons. The senator is of the opinion that resultant tax benefits would benefit the state.... Johnson also says that decriminalizing possession would ease the burden on prisons. "We're locking up non-violent, marijuana possessing people, giving them felonies and filling up our prisons."
"It's just the right thing to do. It's a plant. It's a God given plant and it could change the world," Fox 25 quoted a petition supporter, Pamela Street, as saying Friday....
Marijuana is different in nature from caffeine, Christian theologian John Piper wrote on the blog of his Desiring God ministry recently. While marijuana "temporarily impairs the reliable processing of surrounding reality," caffeine "ordinarily sharpens that processing," he said.
June 15, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting article from the Washington Post headlined "Faith leaders wrestle over growing support for marijuana." Here are excerpts:
Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the “pot bowl,” as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza. As public opinion has shifted in support of legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.
According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it.
Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.
Caught in the middle of the debate are pastors, theologians and other religious leaders, torn over how to uphold traditional understandings of sin and morality amid a rapidly changing tide of public opinion.
Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders. “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said. “None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”
Alcohol abuse, he said, is a much more serious issue. President Obama suggested something similar to The New Yorker recently when he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.
But don’t expect pastors to start preaching in line with DeMoss, who said he has not seen much comment from religious leaders on the issue. “If a pastor said some of what I said, there would be some who would feel the pastor was compromising on a moral issue,” he said. “No one wants to risk looking like they’re in favor of marijuana. I’m not in favor, but I think we should address how high of a priority it should be.”...
Laws on marijuana have disproportionately impacted minorities, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “There are community programs that can better engage young people than incarceration,” he said. “Many black and brown lives are destroyed because of incarceration.”...
Most Christians are still reluctant to favor legalization, Rodriguez said, since the effects of marijuana aren’t much different from getting drunk, which is a biblical no-no. “It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down,” he said. “We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.”
Some who favor legalized marijuana liken the Christians who oppose it to be like the early 20th-century evangelicals and fundamentalists who supported a federal prohibition on alcohol. Part of a move in the Republican Party toward a loosening on marijuana legislation could be coming from people who also would sympathize with the Tea Party, said Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“I definitely think there’s been a coalition of ‘leave us alone’ libertarians and Woodstock nation progressives on this issue of marijuana,” Moore said. “I do think there has been an effort to stigmatize those with concerns as Carrie Nations holding on to prohibition.”