UPDATE: On Monday, the First Church of Cannabis announced on social media that rather than risk legal turbulence, the inaugural service on Wednesday would be held without the use of marijuana.
“Due to the threat of police action against our religion I feel it is important to CELEBRATE LIFE’S GREAT ADVENTURE in our first service WITHOUT THE USE OF CANNABIS. The Police dept has wagged a display of shameless misconceptions and voluntary ignorance. We will do our first service without the use of any cannabis. CANNABIS WILL BE PROHIBITED ON THE FIRST SERVICE,” the church posted on Facebook.
“We will not be dragged into criminal court for their advantage,” Bill Levin, the church’s founder, said. “We will meet them in a civil court where the laws are clear about religious persecution. We do not start fights. We Finish Them!”
The controversy surrounding Indiana’s newfound “religious freedom” law and its implications, which led to the uprising of the First Church of Cannabis, may come to a disgusting head later this week in Indianapolis. In a recent press conference, city Police Chief Rick Hite and Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry pledged to bring hard times down on those in attendance of the inaugural ceremony on Wednesday, threatening to arrest and charge the entire congregation with various drug-related offenses.
“Possession of marijuana is a crime in Indiana, and there is no exception for where marijuana is possessed,” Chief Hite said. “Anyone who attends this or any other event and brings marijuana will potentially be subject to arrest or summons and criminal charges. If someone gives marijuana to another individual that is a crime of dealing marijuana and also subject to arrest or summons and criminal charges.”
However, the risk of prosecution has not been enough to deter First Church of Cannabis founder Bill Levin from moving forward with plans to hold a service where he says marijuana will be consumed in abundance. In fact, Levin, who told the Indianapolis Star that the city’s promise of a shakedown “changes nothing,” suggested he is fully prepared to challenge those who oppose religion freedom in a court of law—and he expects to win.
“I look forward to my day in court,” Levin told Fox 59.
Levin, who maintains that using marijuana as a sacrament in church is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), recently told High Times that no Indiana judge wants to try a case involving religion because “they’re petrified” of being put “in a position of judging God.”
However, Curry, who appears eager to prosecute the cannabis church, claims the RFRA is not “a legitimate defense” for breaking the law. Reports indicate the prosecutor has advised local police to arrest all of those in possession of marijuana, as well as “impaired drivers.” The prosecutor argued that although “religious freedom” could be a legitimate defense against prosecution, his “office will address the argument within the context of the case in which it is presented.”
Although Levin believes the city’s most severe threats are likely a bluff, and that law enforcement officers will simply show up on Wednesday with summons, Curry claimed that holy stoners will not be treated any differently than people caught in violation of the law at other highly publicized events across the city.
“Individuals are cited for criminal offenses when they are observed, whether it’s at the Indy 500 or rock concerts,” Curry said. “What is different here is that we’ve been given notice that this is going to occur. From our perspective, it would be entirely the wrong message that we would not react to that.”
According to Levin, Wednesday’s service is expected to be a sold out, capacity crowd. There will be security personnel on site to ensure the safety of all those who attend, as well as legal counsel prepared to combat the certainty of a raid.
High Times will be in Indianapolis on Wednesday covering the potential raucous from the First Church of Cannabis. Be sure to watch for regular news updates.