Bill Levin, a cannabis advocate and leader of the First Church of Cannabis, poses outside his home in Indianapolis, with his goat and peacock on May 19, 2015. Levin has said he established the church as a test of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gives people the right to follow their religious practices without government interference. (Michelle Pemberton, The Indianapolis Star via AP)

Authorities: Pot users face arrest at Indiana cannabis church

INDIANAPOLIS — Visibly frustrated Indianapolis authorities said Friday they’re prepared to arrest participants who attend the first service next week at a pot-smoking church that was formed as a test of the state’s new religious objections law.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Rick Hite said that they are frustrated that they have to devote time and resources to Wednesday’s service at the First Church of Cannabis, and Curry called on lawmakers to repeal the law that church founder Bill Levin plans to use to defend his congregation. Marijuana is illegal in Indiana.

“We do not view the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a legitimate defense to committing a crime,” Curry said during a news conference. “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.”

Gov. Mike Pence signed the religious objections law in March despite concerns that it would allow religious beliefs to be used as a legal defense to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. The move sparked calls to boycott the state and forced lawmakers to revise the language.

Levin has said he established the church as a test of the law, which gives people the right to follow their religious practices without the heavy hand of government. The Internal Revenue Service has granted it tax-exempt status, and Levin has taken a mortgage on a building that will serve as the church.

Congregants will follow blessings by smoking marijuana in what he describes as a religious practice, Levin told The Indianapolis Star.

But legal experts have questioned whether he’s on solid ground, and Curry and Hite warned Friday that anyone who attends the First Church of Cannabis service next week is subject to arrest or summons and criminal charges.

“If they engage in this act and they assert that defense and the court disagrees … they’ve got a criminal conviction,” Curry warned.

Hite shared his frustration.

“This doesn’t fit in a modern city that’s moving progressively,” he said. “Is this really what churches are about?”