An Indianapolis church devoted to marijuana and recognized as a nonprofit religious organization by the Internal Revenue Service says Indiana's new religious freedom law sanctions its worship activities.
The First Church of Cannabis has already raised more than half of its $20,000 startup goal via the gofundme.com website and now the tax man says donations to the group are tax-deductible. Media reports indicate the group will inaugurate its meetings on July 1, a Wednesday, when Indiana's new religious freedom law takes effect.
"Somebody at the IRS loves us because we got (approval) back in less than 30 days," First Church of Cannabis founder Bill Levin told The Washington Times. Levin told USA Today that using marijuana, illegal in Indiana for recreational or medicinal purposes, was his religion.
"This is what I live by, and I have more faith in this religion than any other," he said. "This is my lifestyle. This is millions of people's lifestyle."
Earlier, Levin told U.S. News and World Report his group's meetings — at a location yet to be determined — will follow a format recognizable by many who've attended Protestant services.
"The first service … will open with 'Amazing Grace' played on harmonica by a popular young musician and move to a quick sermon and short member testimonies about positive things that happened in the past week," the news website reported. "And then, as anticipation mounts in what’s likely to be a packed house, Levin will issue a call to worship and the sanctuary will fill with smoke."
According to the USA Today report, Levin's claim that Indiana's religious freedom law protects the new church's spiritual activities is an unintended consequence of the measure.
"It's not the type of plaintiff that was expected or that probably most supporters of (the Indiana law) had in mind," said Robert A. Katz, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. Levin "is not the first person to frame marijuana in terms of free exercise of religion, and he won't be the last."
According to the Greensburg, Indiana, Daily News, neither Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller nor Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry has said what legal steps they might take if Levin's congregation lights up during worship. The newspaper reported "Curry opposed the religious freedom law and warned that it would be used as a defense by drug offenders who claim that they are exercising their 'religious right' to smoke pot."
Just who will join Levin's new church is open to question. Last year, the Deseret News reported that children raised with strong religious values are more likely to avoid drugs and alcohol. For those concerned about raising the subject within families, cnn.com offered some advice to parents on how to talk to their children about legally available marijuana.