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.