Tag Archives: Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Indiana Cannabis Church Challenges Prohibition In Lawsuit

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.

[RELATED: IRS Grants Nonprofit Status To Indiana Cannabis Church]

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.


IRS Grants Nonprofit Status To Indiana Cannabis Church

The Indianapolis Star reported that Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis has been classified by the IRS as a nonprofit, which grants the organization tax-exemption status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code.

The First Church of Cannabis was formed earlier this year by Bill Levin in response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The church had already been approved by Indiana’s secretary of state as a nonprofit domestic corporation in March.

The church’s new status means that contributions will be tax-deductible on federal tax returns. The First Church of Cannabis is also now eligible for a property tax exemption.

Levin told The Washington Post in March that plans for the church included plans for growing hemp but not buying or selling cannabis. “We’re going to set up counseling for heroin since we have a huge epidemic in this country. We’ll probably have Alcoholics Anonymous, too. I’m not going to allow alcohol on the premise,” said Levin.

“I find that most religions are misled into gross perversions of what they are meant to be. This path has led me to lead a religion that people in today’s world can relate to it. We don’t have any guilt doctrine built in. We don’t have any sin built in,” he said.

The First Church of Cannabis has planned its first service for July 1, which is the day that Indiana’s RFRA goes into effect. The service is planned to include smoking cannabis, which Levin calls a religious practice. According to the The Indianapolis Star, legal experts express doubt that the RFRA will protect members smoking cannabis at the church from prosecution.

Indiana Judge Rejects Religious Freedom Defense for Rastafarian’s Pot Charges

Last Tuesday, in Indiana, where Governor Mike Pence recently signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, a judge rejected a Rastafarian man’s legal defense that his felony pot possession charges should be reduced because his cannabis use and cultivation are religious rituals. According to Detroit Free Press, 30-year-old Jerome Scott, who is licensed to cultivate medical marijuana in Michigan but was caught with cannabis in Indiana, risks having his next license renewal denied over his felony conviction.

South Bend Tribune notes that St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller sentenced Scott to 18 months probation and said in court, “I understand there are many people who agree with you that marijuana should be legal, but you’re in the wrong state for that. What you knowingly and deliberately did in Indiana is break the law by not only cultivating it, but also distributing it.”

Scott was arrested following a March 19 incident in which he was robbed and shot by unknown suspects who are still at large. Though police who responded to the scene of the crime did not catch the robbers who attacked Scott, they did find evidence of a grow operation at Scott’s residence and arrested him instead.

“Cultivating my own cannabis is my way of not contributing to the black market and drug dealing tactics. In my natural state, I don’t believe I’m breaking any law. I know I’m not harming anyone or causing any harm to the community,” said Scott at his sentencing, denying accusations that he is a drug dealer.

Scott’s girlfriend, Melanie Schmidt, said, “All of his hard work, all of his studying, his whole life, they’re telling him he can’t do that.” She feels that the fact that the felony conviction could prevent him from continuing to cultivate cannabis for patients in Michigan is unjust.

South Bend Tribune‘s Christian Sheckler wrote, “To followers of the Rastafari faith, which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, cannabis is a holy herb, and smoking marijuana is considered a sacrament that brings peace, wisdom and a spiritual connection to nature. It’s unclear how many people identify as Rastafari in the South Bend area, as census figures do not include it among other religions.”

In September of last year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media expose on the government’s mixed messages on medical cannabis. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.