Citing religious freedom, the First Church of Cannabis is suing for the right to use marijuana as part of its sacrament under Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration law.
The suit, filed yesterday (July 8), invokes Indiana’s recently-enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and asks that the Church, its founders, and its members be shielded from prosecution for possession of marijuana.
The complaint (full text) in First Church of Cannabis, Inc. v. State of Indiana, alleges that cannabis is the sacrament of the Church, and laws punishing possession of marijuana and visiting a place where marijuana is used substantially burden plaintiffs’ exercise of religion.
Marijuana is currently illegal in Indiana for both medical and recreational use. However, the new Religious Freedom Restoration Act prevents state government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion, and the First Church of Cannabis has been officially recognized by Indiana’s Secretary of State.
According to the lawsuit, the First Church of Cannabis contends that for its members, called “Cannaterians,” cannabis is a religious sacrament that “brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression.”
The Indianapolis Star reports that legal experts are divided on whether or not the church can be successful with their novel challenge to Indiana’s prohibition on marijuana.
The lawsuit names the state, Gov. Mike Pence, Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter, Indianapolis Police Chief Rick Hite, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Marion County Sheriff John Layton as defendants.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry complained about the confusion surrounding Indiana’s controversial new law, noting:
Our office and police agencies have serious public safety issues we have to address every single day. I am beyond frustrated that we are having to devote valuable time and resources to this matter solely because of an ill-advised and unnecessary law enacted by our legislature, The act serves no purpose, no purpose whatsoever, other than political posturing.
Attorney Abdul-Hakim Shabazz notes “as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices” you should be legally protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act:
What ‘compelling interest’ would the state of Indiana have to prohibit me from using marijuana as part of my religious practice? I would argue marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and wine used in religious ceremonies. Marijuana isn’t anymore ‘addictive’ than alcohol and wine is used in some religious ceremonies. And marijuana isn’t any more of a ‘gateway’ drug than the wine used in a religious ceremony…
While it is amusing to think of the irony of mean-spirited conservative Christians paving the way for peace-loving pot-smokers to legally partake of the weed, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is no laughing matter.
The law is ugly and misguided legislation designed to give conservative Christians legal permission to discriminate against LGBT people and others when such discrimination aligns with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Theoretically, the law would allow restaurants to refuse to serve gay or interracial couples, hotels could refuse to provide lodging for Jews, landlords could refuse to rent to African Americans, pharmacies could refuse to dispense birth control to women, and employers could fire anyone, so long as such behavior was justified by “sincerely held religious belief.”
As for the First Church of Cannabis, earlier this week more than 100 people attended the church’s second service. However, because of threats of criminal prosecution church members are refraining from using cannabis at church services until a successful resolution of their lawsuit.
For more information on the First Church of Cannabis, see their Facebook page.