While Indiana Governor Mike Pence was busy signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), marijuana advocates were devising a clever scheme to throw his policies back in his face. Within hours of making it legal in the Hoosier State for businesses to refuse service to homosexuals, the necessary paperwork to establish the First Church of Cannabis was filed with the Secretary of the State.
“This whole anti-gay bill they were producing here was just a horrid little thing that everybody was watching real closely, and it became evident that this state thinks more about religion than it does about government or equal rights or anything else,” said Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis, during a recent interview with High Times. “I filed the papers with the Secretary of State on Thursday, as soon as Mikey signed off on that damn bill, and it came back the next morning that it was accepted.”
This means the state of Indiana, which has blatantly refused to even hear legislation to legalize marijuana, has officially recognized the First Church of Cannabis as a legitimate ministry and acknowledges the religion, which Levin calls “Cannabiterian,” as an accepted faith. The church now has just as much freedom to operate as any other denomination in the state.
Levin, who also organizes the Indy Canna March at the Statehouse each year on 4/20, announced the formation of the church on his Facebook page last Friday, which he says has generated such an outpouring of support from people all over the country that the reality of building a brick and mortar facility is well within reach.
“The damn thing has snowballed so big that we’re already raising money for our church,” he said. “We’ll probably break $2,000 before the end of the day.”
It will be the world’s first “Hemple,” Levin continued. “We’re going to build a hempcrete temple from the ground up. That’s my ultimate goal—to get a campus where we can achieve a lot of success, love and take care of people.”
The master plan for the First Church of Cannabis, Levin explained, came immediately after hearing Indiana attorney Abdul-Hakim Shabazz say on his radio show last week that RFRA may provide a loophole for pot smokers to partake in the herb in the name of religion.
“Marijuana consumption is part of numerous faith traditions,” Hakim Shabazz said. “If you’re a member of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, you can light up. And you might want to attend a future service of the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, The Free Life Ministry Church of Canthe and my personal favorite, the federally tax-exempt InFormer Ministry Collective of Palms Springs, California. All these organizations use pot as part of their religious practices.”
The attorney, who is also the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.org, states that under RFRA, Indiana must “articulate a compelling interest” in order to prevent a person from smoking marijuana.
“I argue they can’t,” he said, adding that a congregation, like the First Church of Cannabis, could pose the argument that marijuana is not as dangerous as using alcohol during their religious services.
Unfortunately, however, even though the Secretary of State has given the First Church of Cannabis the green light to hold religious ceremonies, that does not necessarily mean the organization will be exempt from the possibility of a law enforcement shakedown… or does it?
According to Hakim Shabazz, RFRA will prevent the state from having any legal recourse against churches that use marijuana as a part of their sacramental expression. Levin agrees, and does not believe state officials will bother his pot parishioners as long as the church operates within the scope of the law.
“That’s why it is so important to get a building,” he said, “To have church property that we can say, okay, this is holy ground.”
However, if police do attempt to arrest church members, Levin said, “we’re in a religious ward and they’re going to lose. There’s not a judge in Indiana who wants to have religion in front of him as a case. They’re petrified. You don’t want to be in a position of judging God. So, I’m as safe as a baby on his momma’s titty.”
The First Church of Cannabis, which maintains its first rule is to “treat everyone with Love as an equal,” will not quite push the limits of similar churches operating across the United States, using religion as a way to grow cannabis and sell it to parishioners at a discounted rate.
“Our church will not, at this point, buy sacramental materials and disperse them to the people,” Levin said. “We will not get caught up in that game… I do not want a federal dealers wrap on us.
“But, if you come into church, and you have medicine in your pocket and you want to enjoy,” he continued, “I really have no problem with it. They can ban smoking in restaurants, they can ban smoking in bars and they can ban smoking in some public buildings, but I don’t think they can ban it in a private church. If it’s good enough for the VFW, it’s good enough for my religion.”
Rather than use “magic books” as Levin calls them, “Cannabiterians” will read from books like “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer, which provides historical accounts about the cannabis plant as hemp and medicine.
“That’s the first book we all started with,” Levin said, “and the first good book I believe every practitioner should read, from cover to cover, and memorize every word.”
The church’s fundraising campaign has been exceptional, and it is just a few thousand dollars shy of securing a temporary location to begin holding services. Levin estimates the organization will need around $5,000 in order to put down a deposit, first month’s rent and to turn on the utilities.
“Once we do the first meeting, I think the church will become self-sustainable,” he said, adding that members will pay a monthly contribution of $4.20. “I think we will have a nice array of gifted, God-fearing Hoosiers who will help build, protect and make our church sustainable.”
Learn more about The First Church of Cannabis or donate to the cause.