INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A group of pot smokers have found a way to skirt tax laws and do illegal drugs by establishing themselves as a “church.”
Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis was founded in March by 59-year-old Bill Levin, whose supporters are known as “cannibiterians.” Levin reportedly has over 700 followers to date.
While marijuana use for both recreational and medicinal purposes is still illegal in Indiana, on July 1, the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is set to take effect, which prohibits the government from “substantially burdening” one’s free exercise of religion. Levin plans on holding his first service on this date.
The leader, who speaks of the “power of weed” has already applied for recognition as a church with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and was granted the status last month. This means that the group will be tax-free, and that gifts to the organization will be tax-deductible.
“The First Church of Cannabis” will also be eligible for a property tax deduction one it moves into its “house of worship” next month. Reports state that Levin’s group plans to gather at the former Strait Gate Christian Church, and has already raised over $11,000 in donations for doing so.
“God loves us and we’re gonna celebrate God,” he told reporters. “We spark up and we light up and we all pray to happiness, compassion and love, and we all dance in the seats and we have a good time and the band will play and everybody will feel beautiful.”
But what there won’t be, Levin said, is any use of Scriptures or Christian teaching.
“We will not use any old books,” Levin said. “No guilt, sin or judgment. We teach the teachings of love and life.”
And while Levin says that the group will not engage in the sale of marijuana during service hours, members will be permitted to smoke during services.
“Our church will not buy, sell or trade in the product,” he said. “But we will encourage our members to enjoy the plant in our church, which is a sanctuary, a safe zone.”
According to the UK Mirror, the First Church of Cannabis has also written its own Ten Commandments called the “deity dozen,” which include “Treat your body as a temple. Do not poison it with poor quality foods and sodas,”Never start a fight, only finish them” and “Do not be a ‘troll’ on the Internet; respect others without name-calling and being vulgarly aggressive.”
“Cannabis, ‘the Healing Plant,’ is our sacrament. It brings us closer to ourselves and others,” the twelfth commandment reads. “It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression. We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.”
While some have praised the idea because of their support for marijuana use, some neighbors have expressed concern about the development.
“They say it’s a religion. It’s not a religion,” neighbor Sarah Taylor told RTV6 News. “The governor and the legislature just passed a freedom of religion law. Can we pick up this building and put it in Mike Pence’s back yard? Let him have it.”