We’ve heard about the boycotts, the outrage, and of course the support. Now some surprising effects of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
An Indiana man, using the law’s protection of religion, to start a new church.
The First Church of Cannabis.
Indiana Secretary of State, Connie Lawson approved the paperwork the day after Governor Mike Pence signed the RFRA.
Now The First Church of Cannabis, whose sacrament is marijuana and hemp, is Indiana’s budding religion.
“We need a new religion,” says founder Bill Levin, “Something we can relate to. Not some old doctrine, but something new.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Using the RFRA not to single out, but to smoke up.
“I celebrate it. I encourage it. And I will never stop a parishioner from lighting up in our sanctuary.”
Marijuana is still illegal in Indiana, but the new law could create loopholes.
Local attorney Mike Woods is working on Democratic State Rep. Gail Riecken’s mayoral campaign. Riecken voted against the RFRA.
“This law is so poorly drafted a lawyer can’t really tell people what it means,” says Woods, “Does it legalize marijuana for somebody that wants to use it for part of a religious practice? It very well might.”
The RFRA prevents state government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion. “Many states have legalized marijuana, so how can Indiana claim it’s a substantial burden?” adds Woods.
But some say the church is using “religion” loosely.
“Smoking pot is not a religion, that’s a choice,” says Ben Riley, “That’s a life choice.”
Woods believes the story for the church isn’t over. “The government will try to shut him down, and then he would assert a defense saying its a substantial burden on my religion. And then its gonna be up to a trial judge.”
But Levin says he thinks he’s in the clear. “I do not believe officers of the law will go into a church sanctuary, because if they open the doors to go into mine; there’s some religions that offer wine to minors on Sundays.”
A church founded on marijuana is opening the religious freedom door. What’s next? You might ask.
“Use your imagination,” says Woods.
Levin says he is still trying to build a church with a sanctuary in Indianapolis, but he says the church will not buy or sell marijuana.