Indiana Judge dismisses Cannabis Church's case defending weed as religious sacrament

Judge throws out claim that marijuana is 'our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression'

Alina Polianskaya
Monday 09 July 2018 18:03 BST

A cannabis church has lost a legal battle which claimed that the drug was a part of its religion and its members should therefore be allowed to use it legally.

Insisting that the drug was used in its sacrament, Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis (FCOC) claimed its members should be protected from prosecution.

Indiana laws prohibit marijuana, but in court documents, filed in 2015, the church said: “Cannabis sativa also known as marijuana or Cannabis, ‘the Healing Plant,’ is the sacrament of the First Church of Cannabis."

It added: "Members of the Church believe cannabis ‘brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression. We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.’”

The claimants alleged that parts of the Indiana Code which state that using the drug is illegal “have substantially burdened and may substantially burden" their ability to exercise their religion, as they would risk being prosecuted "for use of the sacrament of their religion".

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the state is banned from “substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion" unless there was a “compelling” reason for this to happen – a rule which the cannabis church drew upon.

The defendants (The State of Indiana) argued that the FCOC was in fact “a political organisation rather than a religious one".

Marion County Superior Court Jude Sheryl Lynch who was deciding the case, denied the FCOC case, as there was a “compelling state interest in preventing marijuana use.

Reasons for her judgement included it being difficult to judge whether the cannabis use was religious or recreational, the difficulties it would create for the authorities to police drug use in general if such exemptions were introduced and the potential of abuse for such exceptions.

In court papers, she said i it would not be possible for the state to continue “preventing the negative public safety and health effects of marijuana use and marijuana trafficking without fully enforcing its statutory prohibitions against the possession and use of marijuana, without exception.”

She added: “A religious exception to Indiana’s marijuana prohibitions would also create confusion for law enforcement and encourage illegal activity in other ways."

The illicit drug market had to be treated in a “unitary” way, she said.

The FCOC could continue to be a church, she said, “without giving marijuana as a holy sacrament and selling in the gift shop”.

She added: “It would be impossible to combat illicit drug use and trade in a piecemeal fashion that allowed for a religious exception that would become ripe for abuse."

Bill Levin, founder of the FCOC, which has a "deity dozen" rather than 10 Commandments, posted on Facebook: “I love you. We lost. We are appealing… and so it goes.”

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