Indiana: cannabis church loses a ‘religious freedom’ lawsuit
Bill Levin, above, is the ‘Grand Poobah’ of First Church of Cannabis in Indiana – and when the state’s then Governor Mike Pence introduced a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Levin initiated a lawsuit that would allow church members to use weed as a sacrament.
It didn’t go well.
According to this report, Judge Sheryl Lynch of the Marion Circuit Court decided last Friday that Indiana had a “compelling interest” in preventing cannabis possession.
Allowing religious exemptions for cannabis use would have an overall negative impact on society, Lynch said. She also argued that an exemption would put Indiana’s police officers in the difficult position of having to evaluate the sincerity of a cannabis user’s religious faith. She wrote:
The undisputed evidence demonstrates that permitting a religious exemption to laws that prohibit the use and possession of marijuana would hinder drug enforcement efforts statewide and negatively impact public health and safety.
The First Church of Cannabis first filed its lawsuit in 2015 in response to Indiana passing the RFRA. The measure reaffirmed that the government can’t substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion. Civil liberties and gay rights groups criticised the measure, arguing that business owners could cite their religious beliefs to deny serving LGBT+ people.
The First Church of Cannabis, which says it is a religious entity with its own sacred texts, rituals and holidays, sought to use RFRA in another way. The church claimed that Indiana’s laws against possessing marijuana have substantially burdened church members’ right to freely exercise their religion.
The group considers marijuana to be a “healing plant” that “brings us closer to ourselves and others,” according to the original complaint filed in 2015.
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.
The First Church of Cannabis is recognised as a nonprofit corporation by the Internal Revenue Service.
Indiana’s attorney general, Curtis Hill, called the church:
A pro-marijuana political crusade that turned into a legal stunt. Indiana’s laws against the possession, sale and use of marijuana protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers statewide. When the state has justifiable and compelling interests at stake, no one can evade the law simply by describing their illegal conduct as an exercise of religious faith.
The group’s attorney, Mark Small,said that he disagrees with Lynch’s decision and is seeking to take further action. He stated in an email:
We shall pursue the appropriate ‘next step’ procedurally.