Trailblazing: Indiana’s first #CannabisChurch tests limits of religious freedom

Reuters / Kostas Tsironis
The Indianapolis-based First Church of Cannabis held its first service on Wednesday. The sect is seeking to get a religious exemption for the use of marijuana in Indiana, where the drug is illegal for both recreational and medicinal use.

The strategy of the “cannaterians” is to have marijuana legalized de facto under Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which grants a broad range of religious liberties, the most controversial of which is the right not to bake wedding cakes for homosexual couples.

At first glance, their place of worship looks like a humble church, and their worship services even involve Christian hymns.

And some not-so-Christian hymns.

“I don’t believe it’s a religion, I believe it’s a drug house,” Bill Jenkins, pastor of a neighboring evangelical church told US News & World Report. He notes that drug dealers also oppose the First Church of Cannabis, suspecting that the dealers fear competition.

The founder and self-proclaimed “Grand Poobah” of the pot church contends that his church is all about love, and has teachings and practices just like any other religion. He likens opposition to his church to religious persecution.

READ MORE: Small businesses impacted by religious freedom bills, marijuana legalization

This wasn’t enough for Indianapolis law enforcement, who held a press conference where Police Chief Rick Hite declared that anyone using drugs near the service would be arrested.

Even though Levin originally planned on having marijuana at the opening ceremony, he took the more pragmatic approach of banning substances from the inaugural service.