There is an organization in Indiana that calls itself the “First Church of Cannabis”.
And they’re trying to get the state of Indiana to recognize a religious exemption to the state’s marijuana laws.
But for now, their efforts have been stymied by the courts.
On Friday, Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Lynch ruled that the First Church of Cannabis could not smoke marijuana as a religious sacrament. Because, obviously, the “First Church of Cannabis” is not a real religion. And Religious Freedom Restoration Act provisions don’t apply to religions that are just thinly-veiled attempts to bypass other laws.
Nevertheless, the First Church of Cannabis has been fighting for their right to 420 blaze their way to heaven since 2015, when they filed a lawsuit against the state mere days after becoming an officially recognized church in Indiana.
They say that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) should allow for a religious exemption from state and federal laws related to marijuana.
If you’ll recall, RFRA is the law Mike Pence signed to allow Indiana bakers to avoid the gay cakes situation. The law is intended to protect individuals from government infringement on the practice of religion, and it required the government to demonstrate a compelling reason for preventing legitimate religious practices.
The bar for getting declared an official church is pretty low. Most states allow joke-y churches to gain official representation on the off chance that some nutjob may actually believe in whatever joke deity they say they’re founding a church around.
But the bar for using your joke-y church as an excuse to circumvent other laws is, as you might expect, much higher.
In her opinion, Judge Sheryl Lynch wrote that such a weed exemption for the weed church would make it difficult for officials to enforce drug laws, because cops aren’t trained or equipped to determine the sincerity of somebody’s religious beliefs.
In other words, the “it’s my religion, bro” defense could be used at any time, even by people with no affiliation with the First Church of Cannabis. That would necessarily make it impossible for cops to fully enforce the laws against marijuana use.
“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,” Judge Lynch wrote. “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.”
In a Facebook post, Bill Levin, the founder of the First Church of Cannabis, declared that the weed church will be appealing Lynch’s ruling.
“I love you. We lost. We are appealing… and so it goes,” said Levin in the post. I guess we’ll see what happens first: either the weed church wins the right to toke it for religious purposes, or marijuana is legalized for recreational use in Indiana/nationwide.
And if broad legalization happens, does anybody really think the “First Church of Cannabis” will have much of a reason to exist anymore?