Founded amidst controversy over the state’s new religious freedom law, Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis Wednesday hosted its inaugural service on the same day the law went into effect.
The worship opened with a house band playing about 30 minutes of music, mostly funky tunes with veiled or direct references to marijuana—the illegal plant Church founder Bill Levin says is his congregation’s holy sacrament.
"It brings us closer to our self and closer to others. It is the fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression," Levin told those assembled. "We will embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group."
More than 100 worshipers gathered in the sanctuary—an overflow crowd stood outside. Attendees provided testimonials about how cannabis had positively affected them, but when it came time to close the service with a sacramental smoking, there wasn’t a joint, bong, or vaporizer in sight.
Levin says that’s because local law enforcement last week warned that anyone smoking pot or even attending the service risked arrest.
"Well, we had a little intimidation regarding our religious beliefs," Levin says.
The First Church of Cannabis could present one of Indiana’s first test cases for the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, passed earlier this year.
Law enforcement made no arrests at Wednesday’s service. But Levin has said he may take his case to civil court, claiming law enforcement threats prevented church-goers from acting on their sincerely held religious beliefs. If or when Levin decides to do so, he could then invoke RFRA as a defense.