First Church of Cannabis founder Bill Levin reversed an initial decision to include cannabis in the recently formed religion’s first service, set for July 1. His Facebook page announced,
“We will do our first service without the use of any cannabis. CANNABIS WILL BE PROHIBITED ON THE FIRST SERVICE.”
According to Levin, the decision does not reflect a change of heart or mission concerning his dedication to promoting the legal use of marijuana. He says it is, instead, a response to a warning issued by local police that everyone present at the event would be subject to arrest. Local law enforcement announced it would charge people smoking marijuana with possession. Even abstaining observers could be charged with promoting a common nuisance. Both are Class B misdemeanors in Indianapolis, subject to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Indianapolis Police Department Chief Rick Hite said,
“I think it’s important to know that we’re not trying to create a police state.”
Levin founded the church earlier this year. The first service is planned for the same day that Senate Bill 101, or Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, goes into effect. Under the act, the government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”
Levin, a long time activist for the legalization of marijuana, says that the new church doctrine bases itself on “love without sexism,” and that cannabis plays a sacramental role in the church’s religious practice. Levin said,
“If cannabis helps us communicate with ourselves, our friends and higher deities, there’s no reason we shouldn’t celebrate life’s great adventure together with cannabis.”
In interviews, Levin has expressed his conviction that the cannabis plant can play a central role in human health and wellbeing.
“The endocannabinoid system within our own bodies,”
“We are wired…hard-wired for this.”
It took 27 days from the time Levin submitted an application for the IRS to bestow nonprofit status on the church. Under 501 (c) (3), donors can deduct gifts on their federal tax return. The church itself is now exempt from property taxes, a benefit that became relevant when it established its physical home recently on the southeast side of Indianapolis. The church has raised over $16,000 thus far through crowd sourcing. Over 44,000 followers have liked the church on Facebook.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry has expressed his understanding that Levin’s efforts to engage with the RFRA are an outgrowth of his advocacy for the legalization of marijuana in Indiana. In several meetings, however, Curry has made it clear to Levin that use of marijuana at the service would be treated as a criminal act.
Some people expressed disappointment at Levin’s decision to back down from his initial promise to include cannabis in the service, saying it was a missed opportunity for advocates to practice civil disobedience. In his reversal, however, Levin cited his belief that the church would have a stronger voice in civil court than in criminal court. He wrote,
“We do not start fights. We Finish Them!”
Levin’s legal representative issued a statement to say that anyone who possesses or uses marijuana during the service does so without Levin’s “knowledge or intent.” The first service is set for noon on Wednesday, July 1.
Below are some attendee photos of the first service:
photo credit: IndyStar Facebook
Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis finally has a home! The building is located on the East has found a building on Indianapolis’s Eastside.
The Church’s founder, Bill Levin, purchased the property at 3400 S. Rural St. and plans to share the news on Wednesday, June 10. Over $10,000 has been raised for the new building by the church on gofundme.com.
New location of the First Church of Cannabis at 3400 S. Rural St. Indianapolis, IN
The building contains 2 rows of pews on each side, which extend back ten rows. Levin, the church’s “minister of love,” says the building should be able to hold 150 to 200 people at a time. The location also has a kitchen, a basement with offices, and a small yard. Plans to place a gift shop in the basement are already underway, and Levin has stated that they will host Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings as well.
The First Church of Cannabis was formed as a way to test Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which officially becomes law on July 1. The RFRA is meant to protection religious freedom by preventing the government from interfering with a church’s religious practices. The law drew a large amount of national backlash because many believed it was a disguised way to allow businesses to discriminate and deny service to same-sex couples based on religious reasons. Many are excited that the formation of this church has allowed them to see the positive, upside to the RFRA.
The purchase of a space for worship comes just a couple of weeks after the Internal Revenue Service approved the First Church of Cannabis as a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization on May 21. This means that donors are able to deduct contributions to the church on federal tax returns, just as one could do with any other donation. The church will also be eligible for a property tax exemption in Indiana.
Levin shared his excitement about finally finding a building to begin worshipping with members of the new church on Facebook:
“It is small and humble facility with love through out every brick. We are HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!”
The first church ceremony is planned for July 1, the day the RFRA becomes law. The organization has already announced plans to fill the sanctuary with cannabis smoke on that day to exercise the rite to sacrament.
Although thousands have already volunteered to help restore the new building, anyone else interested in volunteering time can contact Cj Parker at [email protected]
Photo Credit: First Church of Cannabis Facebook
The same day Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, signed the bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), paperwork was also submitted to register The First Church of Cannabis Inc. as a non-profit organization in the Hoosier State.
As it turns out, the recently enacted controversial law prevents the state (Indiana) government from “substantially burdening” a person’s right to exercise religion.
Lawmakers likely had no idea of the far-reaching effects of the decision to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, reported that the RFRA is meant to ensure that the government does not infringe on peoples’ religious beliefs. He contends that he wants to ensure that Indiana remains a state where all faiths are respected.
Others think that it is really meant to protect business owners from being compelled to provide services for same-sex weddings. Indiana was the recipient of a fair amount of negative comments following refusal by some establishments to supply cakes, flowers or photography for this purpose.
Bill Levin, found of The First Church of Cannabis, does not care about the intentions behind the new law, however, and is poised and ready to take advantage of it. Levin’s registration paperwork for The First Church of Cannabis has since been approved, and on the day that the RFRA becomes law, Levin intends to hold the church’s first service with sacrament.
On July 1, Levin will call to worship, and the sanctuary will fill with the sweet smell of sacramental cannabis.
According to the tenets of the church, cannabis is a holy sacrament. Therefore, the new act — albeit inadvertently — likely sanctions the smoking of marijuana during services. Although the proof will be seen when the service is allowed to take place unimpeded, the founder feels it is unlikely that they will be disturbed by law enforcement.
Levin is banking on the government not wanting to be on the receiving end of any more bad press. According to him, he’s had even right-wing conservatives giving him the thumbs up.
The church founder is not just trying to get a free pass at getting high, however. He believes that old religions no longer reflect the needs of the time. Church members feel that marijuana:
“Brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression. We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.”
In line with these beliefs, the first service will include, in addition to a short sermon, testimonies from members about positive experiences in their lives.
Without a doubt, eyes will be turned toward Indiana on July 1 when the act becomes law, as well as afterward. First, to see if the church services are, indeed, left undisturbed. Second, to see how this religion unfolds as time goes on.