The last few years the U.S. has been inundated with debates about the use of marijuana and its legality or illegality. Some states have enabled residents to procure the product as a medicinal aid. Fewer states have allowed the substance the opportunity to be used by their residents recreationally as well as medically.
Many states are still debating the use of marijuana, with most refusing to even let the drug be used medically. Now, in a new twist of events, a church in Indiana—labeled The First Church of Cannabis—seeks to get a religious exemption to the state’s marijuana laws, stating that they use the medicine to grow closer in love to one another.
As such, The First Church of Cannabis claims to be using cannabis in a sacramental manner, and proposed that cannabis be considered a religious sacrament under Indiana’s Religious Freedom and Reformation Act (RFRA).
Indiana’s RFRA, based on the federal RFRA, was signed into law by Governor Mike Pence during his governorship in 2013-2017. It was intended as a means of reaffirming a person’s right to exercise religion.
The church is already recognized by the state of Indiana and by the IRS as an official church. However, their lawsuit regarding the sacramental use of marijuana was rejected by Judge Jude Sheryl Lynch of the Marion County Superior Court who ruled that The First Church of Cannabis cannot smoke marijuana as a religious sacrament.
Judge Jude Sheryl Lynch defended her position and was quoted by FindLaw as stating that she has “undisputed evidence” which “demonstrates that permitting marijuana would hinder drug enforcement efforts statewide and negatively impact public health and safety.”
Indeed, the court case was a bold move by the church considering that marijuana is illegal both in terms of recreational use and in terms of medicinal use in Indiana. Indiana laws still consider marijuana to be a schedule 1 drug and unleashes harsh penalties on anyone caught using or possessing the substance. Even someone’s knowledge of cannabis use—or their presence during someone else cannabis use—can land them with 6 months in jail on a misdemeanor charge.
In response to the judgment, the church says that is will appeal. The First Church of Cannabis strongly believes that their right to use marijuana is protected under the First Amendment with the free exercise of religion and is, therefore, protected by the RFRA.
They may, unfortunately, have a hard fight ahead of them. Particularly considering that the sincerity of the entire church is already under question—church has monthly fees of $4.20, has entitled the head of their church The Grand Poobah, and have admitted that the idea to establish the church was based on an episode of The Flintstones.