The First Church of Cannabis filed a lawsuit against the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis in Marion County Circuit Court on Wednesday, asserting that the state’s prohibition of marijuana use violates the church’s religious freedom. According to the church, cannabis is the church’s sacrament that “brings us closer to ourselves and others.”
The suit claims that Indiana laws punishing the use or possession of marijuana burdens the church’s exercise of religion in violation of the state and U.S. Constitution. The full text of the suit can be read here.
“Today we invite the state of Indiana and all its leaders to joyfully meet us in a court of law for clarifications on our core religious values. We look forward to engaging them on the high plane of dignity and discipline, with love and compassion in our hearts, to find a swift and sensible answer for our questions of religious equality,” said the church’s founder, Bill Levin, at a conference held outside of the Indiana Statehouse.
Proving that marijuana use is a tenet of religion protected by Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is likely to be a significant challenge, as several legal experts pondered the likelihood that The First Church of Cannabis will be successful in its suit.
“Is this a genuine religion, or is it a pretext?” Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher questioned. “Because you can imagine, with anyone who’s using a controlled substance, we can’t let them all say, ‘It’s my religion.’ The court has to draw a line somewhere.”
Fellow Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle said “It has to be the case that it is the religious belief- not something else- that is motivating the use of marijuana.”
The First Church of Cannabis held its first service on July 1, the day that the state’s RFRA took effect. Despite initial plans to made by Levin to use marijuana at the church service, he instead smoked a cigar after the county prosecutor and police chief reportedly threatened to arrest any churchgoers. At the church’s second service on July 8, police presence was significant, with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department vehicles patrolling the street during the service.
In early June, Levin announced that The First Church of Cannabis had been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization.