The First Church of Cannabis Inc. has been approved by Indiana’s secretary of state after the state’s religious freedom legislation became law last week.
The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law last Thursday. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”
Cannabis is listed as the church’s sacrament in its doctrine, Levin said, and he will set up a church hierarchy. The church will plan to grow hemp, he said, though it will not buy or sell marijuana.
“If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them,” Levin said. “This is a church to show a proper way of life, a loving way to live life. We are called ‘cannataerians.'”
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Marijuana is currently illegal in Indiana for both medical and recreational use, so the church could test the application of the new law. RFRA prevents Indiana’s government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion if it can demonstrate that it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.
Levin, who spoke to The Post by phone, said the church has received $2,000 in donations and received more than 7,000 Facebook fans in the five days that it has existed. He hopes to build the first church or temple built of hempcrete, a building material similar to concrete that includes hemp.
“We are progressing to get a building property to be our holy ground,” he said. “We’re going to set up counseling for heroin since we have a huge epidemic in this country. We’ll probably have Alcoholics Anonymous, too. I’m not going to allow alcohol on the premise.”
Levin also wrote out the new “Diety Dozen,” a 10 commandments-like list with suggestions for better living.
“The bibles of other religions are yesteryear about the drinking out of goat skins. That doesn’t relate to people with GPS in their hand and 7,000 tunes in that same hand,” he said. “The church is very simple. The first good book we’re going to ask parishioners to read and understand is ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes.'”
Levin, who owns a consulting and marketing company called Levin Consulting in Indianapolis, said he is not religious.
“I’m very faith-driven, I’m very spiritual and I’m filled with love,” he said. “I find that most religions are misled into gross perversions of what they are meant to be. This path has led me to lead a religion that people in today’s world can relate to it. We don’t have any guilt doctrine built in. We don’t have any sin built in.”
Once the church is established, members will be asked for individual donations of $4.20 a month, Levin said.
Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz wrote that Indiana legislators may have put the state in a position to acknowledge those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.
“You see, if I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scott-free,” he wrote. “Remember, under RFRA, the state has to articulate a compelling interest in preventing you from smoking pot. I argue they can’t.”
The Church of Cannabis is just one test of many under Indiana’s new law, which has escalated to national prominence in the past week, raising questions about the future of religious freedom laws and gay rights.