The First Church of Cannabis Sues Indiana
The highly publicized First Church of Cannabis has filed a lawsuit against the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis. The church claims that anti-cannabis laws violate its members’ religious beliefs, which it claims is protected by the First Amendment and more specifically Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The church is seeking “declaratory and injunctive relief” for the prohibition of cannabis, which the church hopes to use as a sacrament in future services. The reason why the words “hope” and “future” are used is that, even though the church has begun services, it has still been unable cannabis in any of its services.
According to Fox News, the church’s first service on July 1, 2015, was filled with police officers meant to ensure that cannabis was not used during the service. A second service took place on the following Wednesday, but it is not clear whether cannabis was used.
According to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Richard Hite, “Possession of marijuana is a crime in Indiana and there is no exception for where marijuana is possessed.” Hite added, “Anyone who attends this or any other event and brings marijuana will potentially be subject to arrest or summons and criminal charges.”
At first glance, the First Church of Cannabis’ lawsuit may seem like a long shot, but in truth it has a better legal standing than you may think. While countless individuals and organizations have claimed cannabis as part of their religious beliefs, none of them had the IRS tax-exempt status that the First Church of Cannabis currently enjoys.
There are several religions in the United States, but for many, tax-exempt status is often considered a dividing line between “official” and “unofficial.”
Also, there is some legal precedent for allowing the use of illegal drugs for religious purposes. Certain Native American tribes are allowed to use the psychedelic drug Peyote for religious sacraments; and in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing a New Mexico church to use the powerful hallucinogenic tea Ayahuasca.
Furthermore, according to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government will have to prove there is a “compelling government interest” in order stop the First Church of Cannabis.
Given the proliferation of legal marijuana in recent years, that may be a hard case to make. According to the Associated Press, church founder Bill Levin gave a press conference in front of the Indiana Statehouse.
“We are taking legal action today to ensure love has no barriers in our land,” Levin said. “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.”
The state has yet to respond to the lawsuit filed by the church but a response is expected in the coming weeks.