How The First Church Of Cannabis Plans To Test Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Law
by JACK JENKINS –
For thousands of years, religious people have gathered together in houses of worship to sing songs, celebrate sacred rituals, and lift up prayers to God(s) on high. And on July 1, a new religious group in Indiana intends to do just that — but with a lot more emphasis on the “high” part.
A little more than a month from now, the newly-formed First Church of Cannabis is scheduled to hold its first official gathering, where worshippers plan to test the limits of new religious freedom laws by “filling up” the sanctuary with marijuana smoke while observing a sacrament.
“It’s going to be a standard service,” Bill Levin, the group’s leader and self-proclaimed “Grand Poohba and Minister of Love,” told ThinkProgress. He explained the ceremony will last around 45 minutes, complete with music and teachings, but will conclude with an unusual benediction: “At the end of the service … we will enjoy cannabis, because it’s how we enjoy life.”
Recreational marijuana is, of course, illegal in Indiana. But Levin believes the service will be allowed under the state’s new version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which reaffirmed and arguably expanded existing legal protections for religious groups. The Grand Poohba founded the Church after he heard about the controversial legislation, which sparked a national outcry when it was revealed that it could allow religious groups and individuals the right to discriminate against others — especially LGBT people. Levin also opposed the legislation, but the same day it was signed into the law, the state approved his request to register his Church as a tax-exempt religious institution.
“The religious freedom law is, if you have a religion, the government will not impede upon your right for that religion,” Levin, a longtime advocate for the legalization of marijuana, told MSNBC. “And as far as I’m concerned, I have a religion [where I] religiously smoke cannabis and I celebrate life.”