The First Church Of Cannabis Has Been Approved As Tax-Exempt

Illustrated by Marcel George.
It's already in our lube and our lip balm, so it was probably only a matter of time before marijuana showed up at church as well. Now, the First Church Of Cannabis, Inc. has been approved by the Indiana secretary of state, and the IRS has given it tax-exempt status, reports Forbes.

The Indianapolis-based church received its approval in late March, but its first meeting won't be until July 1. The group also has a crowdfunding campaign underway to raise money for a year-long lease on a church building — America's first "Hemp Temple." The group's guiding principles, the "Deity Dozen," focus on themes of compassion and having an appreciation of nature and our health. Cannabis is referred to as the group's healing "sacrament."

Although the church doesn't plan to sell or buy marijuana, founder Bill Levin says, “If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them." However, unlike in other states, marijuana is still illegal for both medical and recreational use in Indiana. The church is getting around this by operating under the state's newly-approved and controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Plenty of other drugs we might consider illegal or dangerous have gone down similar religious paths. For instance, ayahuasca tea has been used in Santo Daime services for decades in Brazil. But, because the tea contains DMT, a Schedule I drug in the States, its use is legally murky here. In 2006, a church with a branch based in New Mexico won a supreme court case to continue using the tea, counting on the federal version of the RFRA. Then, in 2009, it was ruled that a Santo Daime-practicing church in Oregon could use ayahuasca in its ceremonies as well.

Today, the Code of Federal Regulations specifically calls out Native American churches as exempt from the Schedule I listing for peyote, which is what spurred the creation of the RFRA. Meanwhile, the RFRA's application is much cloudier when it comes to Rastafarians and marijuana.

The First Church of Cannabis will prove to be a particularly interesting test of Indiana's RFRA, which (conspicuously) goes into effect the same day as the church's first meeting. Of course, it's possible for the church to lose its tax-exempt status, which Forbes points out happens to 501(c)(3) organizations all the time. So, if you're looking for a higher power, join while you can.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a Santo Daime chapter based in New Mexico was involved in a 2006 supreme court case. The church involved in this case was actually a branch of the Uniao do Vegetal (UDV).

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