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Why Indiana court dismissed Church of Cannabis RFRA case to allow marijuana as a sacrament

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Curtis Hill speaks at a press conference at the start to the legislative session, Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Photo: RobertScheer, Robert Scheer/IndyStar) Buy Photo

The First Church of Cannabis has lost its final appeal in a legal battle aimed at forcing the state to permit the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament.

The Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed the Church of Cannabis’ case Dec. 28 after it failed to pay a court transcript fee and failed to present an argument as to why the appeal should not be dismissed.

“Laws against the possession, sale and use of marijuana are designed to protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers statewide,” Attorney General Curtis Hill said Thursday in a statement.

Recreational marijuana legal in Michigan: Know if you go

In a case filed three years ago, the church argued that members’ use of marijuana should be protected under Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The appellate court snuffed out the argument by dismissing the church’s claims “with prejudice,” a legal term that means the case is dead and can not be refiled under the same legal grounds.

“The devout worshipers of the First Church of Cannabis may find more fertile ground in another state to legally consume their favorite sacrament, but they won’t be lighting up in Indiana,” Hill said. “Our courts have repeatedly upheld their validity.”

The church is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit corporation and holds services every Wednesday at its east-side house of worship, 3400 S. Rural St.

“We are a successful church doing beautiful things for a our community,” said Church of Cannabis founder and “Grand Poobah” Bill Levin. “We will continue preaching the gospel of cannabis.”

Bill Levin poses in the sanctuary at The First Church of Cannabis on June 23, 2015. The sanctuary includes a painting on the back wall of two hands passing a cannabis cigarette. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar)

Levin said he had not spoken to his attorney about the case, but believed the problem was a “timing” issue.

While the ruling ensures that Indiana remains a buzzkill for cannabis users, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 10 states allow recreational use, including neighboring Michigan.

Levin said his church is working to educate those who are willfully ignorant of the benefits of marijuana.

“I feel sorry for the people who are not educated in this subject matter,” Levin said. “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing, because we’re doing God’s work.”

Call IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at 317-444-2701. Follow him on Twitter: @VicRyc.

First Church of Cannabis loses final appeal in legal effort to force the state to permit the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament.

First Church of Cannabis

Homegrown in Indianapolis: The First Church of Cannabis

When one walks into the First Church of Cannabis, the sight of a traditional church does not greet him or her. Although the layout is similar, with wooden pews and an altar, the church-scene shifts when one sees the drum set behind the speaker’s podium, and the man-sized plant puppet next to it.

On the back wall is a rebooted version of Michelangelo’s famous painting, “The Creation of Adam,” except instead of just touching fingers, God is handing man a joint. There is even an old school toyshop in the basement, with old X-Men figures and Men In Black action figures. Everything about this church is untraditional, and Bill Levin likes it this way.

The Cannaterian Way

Following Bill’s life-changing out of body experience in Bangkok Taiwan (see video below for more on that), and then former Indiana governor Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom Act a few years later, Bill claims the “fertilizer was there” to start his religious organization. In Bill’s words, “there is no other religion that says you need to enjoy life and have fun. Most religions tell you you’re a sinner and imperfect, we just want you to enjoy life and love everybody.

Contrary to myths that people may believe, one cannot actually smoke cannabis inside the church, rather, it is considered a sacrament and a healthy gift from God. Bill believes everyone should benefit from cannabis, using it for enjoyment, health reasons, or even using hemp as an organic textile or material.

You don’t have to include their sacrament though. In fact, one can become a cannaterian (one who follows the ways of the Church of Cannabis) without even partaking in the before-mentioned sacrament. They just need to have unconditional love for their neighbors. (and abide by the Deity Dozen)

Events & Giving at The First Church of Cannabis

Carrying on with Bill’s idea of having fun and loving everyone, events at the church are different than any other church. They have weekly movie nights, live music, comedy nights, and also regular services. The most amazing part about these events is the admission fee: there is none! Bill wants as many people to come as possible, and the Church only makes money through donations.

The people in the First Church of Cannabis’ congregation believe wholeheartedly in the donation spirit, often times giving hundreds of more items to charity than competing churches. Talking about a recent coat drive, Bill said, “the average church gives about a few hundred articles of clothing for these types of coat drives, and we came with bags containing about thirty-two hundred articles of clothing. The place was shocked. We just have a giving spirit.”

National & International Growth

The First Church of Cannabis is still growing, showing it’s not just a fad. Their pamphlet and information has been translated into twenty-seven different languages, including the language of Ebu, which is a nomadic tribe in Nigeria. People are buying into this movement, led by their eccentric and loving leader Bill. There are Jewish, Christian, Atheist, and many more people of different faiths that belong to the Church of Cannabis, all seeing the benefits of the pluralistic religion.

Whether you are an avid Cannabis fan, or just someone who believes in the enjoyment of life and the enjoyment of loving everyone, the First Church of Cannabis has something that will resonate with you.

And for you Hoosiers, it’s right in your backyard.

Homegrown in Indianapolis: The First Church of Cannabis When one walks into the First Church of Cannabis, the sight of a traditional church does not greet him or her. Although the layout is similar, with wooden pews and an altar, the church-scene shif