A judge in Indiana has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a pot-smoking Indianapolis church that wants marijuana to be recognized as a sacrament. The three-year-old case in Marion Circuit Court was vaporized on Friday, July 6.
The church members refer to themselves as Cannatarians and their beliefs are not uncommon. Rastafarians, who take their name from the former Emperor of Ethiopia Ras Tafari Makonnen, also believe that “the herb,” as recognizable Rastafari Julian Marley puts it, is a sacrament.
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In her dismissal, Judge Sheryl Lynch said the church’s love for marijuana does not count as practicing a religion. She also said allowing exemptions for illegal marijuana use and possession would negatively impact society, according to the Associated Press.
Judge Lynch also stated, “In addition, if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act affords an exception to the prohibition against marijuana possession, it would be unclear whether state law enforcement officers would be permitted to use the scent of marijuana, or plants and paraphernalia in plain view, as probable cause for a search warrant. Such indicators traditionally have been ‘obvious sources of probable cause’. However, a religious exception to the marijuana laws could render them ‘questionable.’”
“In other words, law enforcement would actually have to do a proper investigation rather than grabbing the ‘Low hanging fruit.’” countered co-plaintiff Neal Smith, who goes by @SkyWolfNealSmith on the church’s Facebook page.
He went on to say that, “Cannabis arrests bring in money to the system. Fines, probation fees, government grants, civil asset forfeiture and state kickbacks and contributions from private prison groups. Who needs civil liberties when there is money to be made?”
Judge Lynch, however, said the pot-smoking parishioners failed to declare how they would obtain the marijuana used in their sacrament, where it would be kept, and how it would be secured. “Or even,” she added, “where the dividing line between ‘sacramental’ and recreational use might lie (if one exists).”
“We weren’t allowed to have the herb, so we weren’t in a position to say what our security system would entail,” says Bill Levin, Grand Poobah and Minister of Love of the First Church of Cannabis. “We can’t, for example, say it’s in a locked safe, behind a locked door, behind a steel gate — the whole Get Smart setup.”
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The church group didn’t have plan to disclose their security details during the deposition. They offer that when they are allowed to have the product, “We will be happy to provide our plan to safely secure our herb. We have so many members around the country who cultivate. Getting it won’t be a problem,” says Levin, who added:
There is an upside to the court’s decision. We are an official religion. Out of this hearing, we got halfway there. The state has recognized us as a functioning religion.
The members of the church argue that the government has no right to decide which religious beliefs should be protected. “We are going to appeal the judge’s decision, without a doubt,” said Levin.
In the meantime, the upbeat, humorous churchgoers plan to take their show on the road. The church plans to host what Levin describes as a cross between a good old-fashioned tent-revival movement and Neil Diamond’s Brother Love Traveling Salvation Show. “We’re tentatively calling it, The Prayer for Legalization tour,” he said.