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Judge Rules Indiana's First Church of Cannabis Cannot Use Marijuana as Holy Sacrament

Judge Rules Indiana's First Church of Cannabis Cannot Use Marijuana as Holy Sacrament

Bill Levin is the founder of Indiana's First Church of Cannabis, a religious organization pushing the boundaries of recreational marijuana use. | (Photo: Facebook/Bill Levin)

Indiana's First Church of Cannabis' three-year legal battle to win a religious exemption to use marijuana as a holy sacrament was snuffed out on Friday when Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Lynch dismissed the case, arguing it would make life difficult for law enforcement.

Officers ill-equipped to determine the sincerity of an individual's religious beliefs would have a lot of trouble balancing law and order and charting a religious exemption that could easily be abused.

"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," wrote Lynch in her opinion.

"It would be impossible to combat illicit drug use and trade in a piecemeal fashion that allowed for a religious exception that would become ripe for abuse," she explained. "Failure to regulate all marijuana in Indiana would leave a gaping hole in our state's drug prohibitions. There is just no way to tailor these laws more narrowly without undermining the entire enforcement scheme."

The First Church of Cannabis, led by Bill Levin, gained national attention in 2015 when it was officially recognized as a religious sect.

It argued that the "government cannot determine what religious beliefs are to be protected."

"Whether one agrees with the beliefs of the church is irrelevant. The church is a religious organization engaged in exercise of religion," the church noted.

Lynch argued that the First Church of Cannabis did not say who would supply the marijuana, how it would be consumed, where it would be stored and how it would be secured, the Indy Star noted.

"Or even," she explained, "where the dividing line between 'sacramental' and recreational use might lie (if one exists)."

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in a press release cited by the Indy Star that Lynch made the right call and said the church is "a pro-marijuana political crusade that turned into a legal stunt."

"I appreciate the court's fidelity to both the law and to common sense," Hill said. "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."

In 2015, Levin said his decision to start the church was a direct response to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by then Gov. Mike Pence. The church was approved as a religious corporation with the stated intent "to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all."

The church had plans to grow hemp but would not buy or sell the narcotic plant.

"If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them," Levin told The Washington Post. "This is a church to show a proper way of life, a loving way to live life. We are called 'cannataerians.'"

Marijuana, including hash and hash oil, is listed as a Schedule I drug in Indiana and using or possessing it can result in a misdemeanor and six months in jail.


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