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First Church of Cannabis files religious freedom lawsuit; State of Indiana claims suit is a stunt

Posted at 8:14 AM, Dec 18, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has asked the Marion Superior Court to rule in the state's favor in a lawsuit related to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Church of Cannabis. 

In legal documents filed Friday, Indiana's solicitor general, Thomas M. Fisher wrote that a lawsuit filed by the First Church of Cannabis is "a political crusade turned legal stunt." The state's case for the lawsuit is that the First Church of Cannabis is not a religion, but a group of marijuana activists pretending for the basis of the lawsuit.

On July 8, 2015, First Church of Cannabis founder Bill Levin filed a lawsuit against Indiana, saying the state's laws against the use of marijuana burdens the use of its sacrament. 

"Their sacrament is marijuana," said Mark Small, the attorney for the church, said in 2015. "They believe that is something that is a positive thing and therefore not being able to smoke it means that they are not able to practice their religion. They cannot engage in their religious society as they would choose to."

In the attorney general's new court documents, the state argues the First Church of Cannabis is not a religion based on 14 factors previously established in a 1996 court case. 

"These factors suggest that, whatever Plaintiffs are engaged in, it is not the practice of religion," the document states.

Those 14 factors are: 

  • Ultimate ideas
  • Metaphysical beliefs
  • Moral or ethical system
  • Comprehensiveness of beliefs
  • Founder, prophet, or teacher
  • Important writings
  • Gathering places
  • Keepers of knowledge
  • Ceremonies and rituals
  • Structure or organization
  • Holidays 
  • Diet or fasting
  • Appearance and clothing
  • Propagation

The state also said the church's request -- being exempt from Indiana's marijuana laws -- would negatively impact public safety and hinder law enforcement efforts.