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: