Court Says Cannabis Doesn't Count As a Sacrament

An Indiana judge just issued a blow to the state's First Church of Cannabis.


First Church of Cannabis/Facebook

The First Church of Cannabis can't legally use marijuana as a religious sacrament, according to a ruling last week from Indiana judge Sheryl Lynch.

Many in the First Church of Cannabis—a religious organization that sprang from the passage of Indiana's 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—expected a different outcome. Filing the lawsuit not long after the RFRA passed, church members argued that the state's RFRA should extend the right for them to bypass laws prohibiting marijuana use as some Native American religious groups have been permitted to do.

Nonetheless, many outside the church assumed this lawsuit was stretching the boundaries too far.

"I'm pretty sure the governor of Indiana did not intend to inspire a national freakout when he signed this bill," wrote Reason's Jesse Walker in a 2015 article on the suit. "So in that sense, the law has had unintended consequences. But accidentally creating an easy legal loophole for Hoosier hemp aficionados is not one of them."

Lynch, of Indiana's Marion County Superior Court, defended her decision by suggesting "it would be impossible to combat illicit drug use and trade in piecemeal fashion that allowed for a religious exception that would become ripe for abuse."

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill applauded the ruling, saying he "appreciate[s] the court's fidelity to both the law and to common sense."

"Indiana's laws against the possession, sale and use of marijuana protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers statewide," Hill's statement continued. "When the state has justifiable and compelling interests at stake, no one can evade the law simply by describing their illegal conduct as an exercise of religious faith."

Bill Levin, a Reform Jew who founded the First Church of Cannabis, expressed plans to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

Levin and his fellow church members aren't the first religious organizations to try to seek the aid of governments to legitimize drug usage. After all, the Clinton-era federal RFRA was written to ensure that peyote was still available for use in Native American ceremonies. This congregation won't be the first or the last. Jacob Sullum's 2007 piece in Reason provides in further insight to this unique area of the law where drugs and faith go hand in hand.

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  1. As a teen I was given ALCOHOL in a cult RITUAL and it was all LEGAL because it happened within the confines of the Church. Who knows from that sip of wine what repressed memories await this former altar boy when a psychoanalyst gets hold of me.

    1. Yeah, well, that’s different.
      Because uh, um, er, well, it just is

    2. Me too. This guy said he was ‘God’s husband,’ and walked around with a long flowing robe and tried to give me some wine in a cup. I took a sip, it was sickly sweet so I spit it out. He screamed – that’s Jesus’s blood!!
      I told him , that’s what you get for killing Jesus, the original hippie.

    3. You were drinking the blood of Christ. See the difference?

      1. Marijuana is the cerebrospinal fluid of Christ.

    4. You got a sip of fairly low grade wine in a ritual that has a lineage going back around 1800 years *at least*.

      The point of the ritual was not to get drunk on the blood of Christ[1].

      OTOH, the whole *point* of the Church of Cannabis was to skirt the law and get high.

      No difference *at all*.

      [1] If the blood of Christ is wine, is he essentially Bacchus?

      1. No, Bacchus is the god of Christ’s blood.

      2. So the Church of Cannabis just has to wait a few centuries and it’ll become legit?

      3. Churches requisitioned more than enough “special dispensation” booze during Prohibition to get every priest drunk several times a week. Some churches built special “indoor patios” — open-air hospitality areas that could not be seen from the street — for Prohibition-era socializing. I saw documentation (from ’30s-era files left in a church sold to a developer) of a church requisition of several hundred cases of California champagne for “sacramental purposes.”

        ‘My fairy tale can beat up your fairy tale, and therefore deserves special treatment’ — always a charming argument from ostensible adults.

      4. That doesn’t matter. Is it a religious practice or not? As far as I’m concerned, if someone says it is, then it is. You can’t have religious freedom if the government gets to decide what’s a real religious practice and what isn’t.

      5. Some rabbis say I’m supposed to get drunk on Purim, and all of them agree that I’m supposed to have 4 cups of wine on Passover. My local Reform Jewish temple switched to grape juice for Shabbat kiddush when I was a teenager, because they wanted to send a message against drunk driving. 😉

    5. Well as a Catholic, I was given blood. Yes it started as wine but the priest muttered some words and proof it turned to blood. So can this group say some words over there weed and claim it is no longer an illegal drug but in fact tobacco.

      1. Why not transubstantiate tobacco into weed?
        Non-believers will believe it’s still just tobacco

    6. I knew Fist’s claims of never having been touched inappropriately by a priest were too good to be true.

  2. This ruling explicitly violates the federal RFRA Act (which Indiana first modeled its RFRA on before they watered down the statute due to the ignorant who complained about “religious discrimination” or something else stupid), which does not apply to the states. Appeal this garbage ruling

  3. The Constitutional guarantee of religious liberty has a small rider written in invisible ink, and here’s what it says:

    “Except if your beliefs are not ‘sincerely held’, or if you’re just trying to cop a buzz, AND you are NOT a wine-swilling Christian, OR a Peyote-gobbling Native American. And Judges will be assumed to have mind-reading abilities, and decide whether you are ‘sincere’ or not, etc.”

    So suck it up and OBEY your masters, dammit!!!!

    1. “… a wine-swilling Christian…”

      Don’t forget the Jews. Four whole glasses at Seder.

  4. Lynch, of Indiana’s Marion County Superior Court, defended her decision by suggesting “it would be impossible to combat illicit drug use and trade in piecemeal fashion that allowed for a religious exception that would become ripe for abuse.”

    That was literally the point of the 90s RFRA. This judge just doesn’t like marijuana.

    1. Federal RFRA doesn’t apply to the states (as was ruled in the early 2000’s). And Indiana’s RFRA was watered down after people protested the law suggesting that it was enshrining “religious bigotry” or something else made-up. If the Indiana RFRA had been modeled exactly like the federal RFRA I don’t know how this ruling could have been made.

      But, yeah, this ruling is stupid on so many levels

      1. Yes, we know the federal RFRA doesn’t apply to states. Doesn’t change that applying to the states was the point of it though.

        That said, I wasn’t speaking from a legal standpoint, just that her argument (“it would be impossible […]”) was obviously wrong.

        1. I agree with you.

    2. Christ, what an asshole.

    3. RFRA isn’t actually the law Native American Church members rely on. Those who pushed for RFRA rebuffed tribal groups when they were approached about including language addressing their information, and ritual peyote users still faced harassment by law enforcement after its passage. 42 U.S. Code ? 1996a, an amendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom act, is what actually protects ritual peyote use.

  5. appeal the ruling to a higher court.

    Dooo-ood, that just might work.

  6. Hey man, it does for me, so bug off!!!

  7. Lynch, of Indiana’s Marion County Superior Court, defended her decision by suggesting “it would be impossible to combat illicit drug use and trade in piecemeal fashion that allowed for a religious exception that would become ripe for abuse.”

    Well, it’s impossible to combat *anything* legally if you allow for religious exceptions, and yet.

    This is why religious freedom restoration laws are a fucking joke that are obviously intended only to protect the entrenched privileges of Christians.

    1. The notion that RFRA laws only protect Christians is profoundly ignorant. You are clearly not familiar with recent wins that has allowed Sikhs to grow beards in the military or to allow Muslims to eat hallal meals in prison, just to name a few. RFRA was specifically designed to protect native Americans to use peyote in religious services (which is even mentioned in this article). RFRA has also recently been used to allow Pastafarians to wear colanders in driver license photos. It specifically has been used to defend an entire “faith” that exists to troll Christians. If anything, the fact that Indian’s RFRA does not protect this use of marijuana is probably more due to the fact that their RFRA was watered down due to progressives such as yourself who stupidly opposed the legislation, because the federal government’s RFRA absolutely would grant such an accomodation

      Have you ever wondered why it is legally impossible to ban burqas in the US (which is not the case in Europe)?

      For your education: http://www.becketlaw.org/

        1. Those are some Sikh victories.

          1. Imagining it took some time to wrap them up

      1. Yes, the federal RFRA was passed in response to Smith, but that’s not the case for Indiana’s version at all, is it? And note that I said “intended.” Indiana’s state law was passed subsequent to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby because they saw an opportunity to explicitly extend religious freedom protections to for-profits, and there’s a reason all the media coverage focused at the time around discrimination against LGBT customers: it’s what the lobbyists were focused on too.

        Some wins for other Abrahamic religions hardly negate the fact that the everyday effect of these laws is primarily in things like “pharmacists are allowed to not do their jobs even though they’re licensed agents of the state.” The “watering down” of Indiana’s RFRA had only to do with not allowing discrimination. So that had nothing at all to do with today’s ruling, which was obviously about control and evil drugs.

        1. Cathy: This is why religious freedom restoration laws are a fucking joke that are obviously intended only to protect the entrenched privileges of Christians.

          Me: That’s not true. All faiths are protected by RFRAs. Here are examples

          Cathy: But, not in Indiana. I can read their mind

          Someone could argue that Indiana passed RFRA in response to Hobby Lobby, because it was rather disturbing to see the federal government explicitly attempt to violate someone’s faith in a clearly illegal manner. But, you insist that you can read the minds of the legislators and the religious faiths that supported the legislation. The exact same legislation that notorious bigot…..Barack Obama voted for in Illinois.

          “Some wins for other Abrahamic religions”

          Sikhs and Native Americans are not part of the Abrahamic faith tradition. You clearly don’t know much about religion. So just take the “L” and move on here

        2. Cathy, do you think a medical assistant at a hospital has the right to refuse to give a patient involuntary electroshock therapy because he’s licensed by the state to work in his profession?

          If the state required a licensed florist to give involuntary electroshock therapy whenever a licensed uber-florist deemed it beneficial for a customer, does the florist have a right to refuse those orders?

    2. Some of the Tantra-influenced forms of Hinduism hold that since the Godhead is immanent in all things, necrophilia, cannibalism, and other taboo-breaking actions are therefore valid forms of worship, because the devotee is transcending the limits that human squeamishness attempts to place on divinity. I would love to see Indiana deal with THAT.

      1. Well, as long as the practices don’t harm anyone else, I guess it passes my test.

      2. From a summary of Necrophilia laws I cited in a blog posts several months ago:

        Thirteen states have statutes that expressly prohibit acts of necrophilia, while seventeen states and the District of Columbia do not have any statute that could reasonably be construed to prohibit sexual contact with dead bodies.

      3. What did the cannibal say to the necrophiliac?

        1. “Are you done with that yet?”

    3. thats not exactly true. In a lot of cases religious freedom is used to exempt yourself from unfair laws that shouldn’t exist. The baker who refused to bake the cake for example. The reasons for the decisions were wrong but it was the right decision. It should have been about freedom of association, so if the baker wasn’t religious he would not supposedly have that option. That would be unfair to HIM but the unfairness would be from the side of the gay couple if such a case happened, that doesn’t mean the religious are getting a privilege in this example, since they just got what they had a right too.

  8. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…

    Not that government cares.

  9. I’m not so sure about this; I know several who worship that plant.

    1. *raises hand*

      *takes a drag*

  10. Cannabis doesn’t qualify as a religious sacrament, cannibalism still A-OK. (Maybe – do American Catholics still believe in transubstantiation?)

  11. Only real religions are protected by the Constitution; I mean geez, this isn’t rocket science.

    1. At one time in American history, the Union of Reform Judaism was an upstart newfangle religion.

  12. As a matter of law, this was a crappy decision that if appealed should be easy to get overturned. If RFRA trumps drug laws for Native Americans, then the Equal Protection clause requires that standard to be applied fairly.

    What the judge should have ruled (but didn’t) was that their “religious convictions” were not sincerely held but were mere pretext for participation in otherwise-illicit activities. RFRA does not apply with the alleged religious beliefs are insincere.

    1. That loophole to human sacrifice might be one the few legitimate bugs in the US Constitution (including the late amendments, of course).

    2. Equal protection laws do not prevent disparate treatment of the members of Indian tribes, because under Morton v. Mancari tribal membership is a political distinction (based on the sovereignty of tribes which pre-exist the US, entered into nation-to-nation treaty relationships, and are recognized in the Constitution via the Indian Commerce Clause) not a racial one).

      People who claim native ancestry but lack tribal membership are no more able to use peyote than anyone else, as peyote use is not protected by RFRA but rather by 42 U.S. Code ? 1996a

  13. Indiana should just tax the fuck out of it and regulate it into oblivion like the woke states are.

  14. I have long wondered why people have not formed churches that declare marijuana, gay marriage, cocaine, abortion, heroin, contraception, gambling, and the like to be sacraments. Using the snowflake-coddling “religious freedom” arguments for liberty (rather than intolerance) would constitute fighting fire with fire.

    1. All in one ceremony? Sign me up!

    2. It takes work to start a new religion, and those causes are progressive causes.

      1. The Congregation of Exalted Reason scoffs at your ignorance.

        Carry on, clinger.

    3. Nothing kick starts a religion like a martyr. Volunteers, anyone?

  15. Given the current hoopla surrounding the next SCOTUS candidate, I’m reminded of my perpetual confusion over why the right to privacy only applies to abortions and not drug use, prostitution, etc.

    Can someone please explain this without using the phrase FYTW?

    1. Unfortunately, in any explanation, the FYTW would be implicit.

      1. I’m SCOTUS has had some flowery wording and BS excuses to hide the FYTW behind. I’m just curious what those arguments are.

        1. I thought FYTW was hiding behind the Commerce Clause…

    2. An abortion saves the government school resources, and judges would rather not hear cases about women’s reproductive parts should prosecutors have to prosecute abortion laws. It took longer, but the same rational made sodomy, and eventually same-sex marriage, legal.

      Your brain, however, is not private in the eyes of the law despite it’s location inside the skull and behind the blood-brain barrier, hence the laws against recreational drug use and the laws mandating prescription drug use for selected individuals. Kind of fucked up. The judges say your reproductive organs are private, even though it is the one organ system that evolved to be shared and they say your nervous system is public even though it evolved to be the most protected organ system in the body.

    3. Because having babies was “traditional”, hence not having them was traditional too, therefore a traditionally protected right.

  16. Bill Levin, a Reform Jew who founded the First Church of Cannabis, expressed plans to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

    I can think of another church started by a Jew who got a religious exemption for sacramental wine during alcohol prohibition.

    1. In slightly related news, I might start a new religion in Israel in order to legalize same-sex marriage there.

      1. The church of Neil and Bob?

  17. So the judge basically ruled that because it would be hard to prevent abuse by others, the First Church of Cannabis’ right to freedom of religion doesn’t matter.

  18. “After all, the Clinton-era federal RFRA was written to ensure that peyote was still available for use in Native American ceremonies”

    This is a common misconception. Members of the Native American Church continued to face harassment after the passage of RFRA, and contemporary defenses for the use of sacramental peyote instead rely on more a far tailored provision, 42 U.S. Code ? 1996a.

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