On July first, the Indiana based First Church of Cannabis, plans to hold a service in which members will smoke marijuana. Last week, the church was granted tax exempt status by the IRS and members hope this will mean big donations. It also means the church can more credibly use Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as legal protection from authorities wishing to bust them for their marijuana use. The act, which got considerable attention last month for potentially opening the door to anti-gay discrimination, will hopefully now be used for something positive.
The law says the state cannot “substantially burden” someone’s religious activities, unless it demonstrates a compelling interest in doing so and does so in the least restrictive way. By declaring marijuana use a religious act, the church hopes to push this law to the limits. The church’s founder states “I don’t think they’re going to come into the church and arrest us… They don’t go into a church now and stop people under 21 from drinking sacramental wine that’s part of a service.” That said, marijuana is still illegal in Indiana and the church is at risk of government action against its members.
Hopefully they will be able to freely conduct their service in peace and chip away at their states oppressive drug laws. Not only does prohibitionism always fail, but imprisoning people for the mere possession of a plant is pure barbarism. The state’s constant harassment, imprisonment, fining and stigmatizing of peaceful people reflects its coercive nature. Its drug wars have led to the growth of powerful criminal cartels as well as countless ruined lives. Fortunately the drug warriors are fighting a losing battle, as over 213 Million Americans now live in states that permit marijuana use in some situations. The debate is no longer a matter of whether to decriminalize, but when to decriminalize. If the church’s actions contribute to the answer being sooner rather than latter, we can all rejoice. Marijuana use can be a spiritual experience, as well as a way to relax or trigger one’s creativity. Prohibition undeniably places an undue burden on the free exploration of one’s spirituality.
While it is a welcome development to see religious exemptions used to undermine unjust laws, such exemptions themselves have the problem encouraging people to claim what they are doing is religious specifically to qualify for the exemption. It would be far better, to simply abolish all unjust laws and allow people to live freely rather than forcing us to find loopholes. Often simple noncompliance with unjust laws is the best way to fight them, as marijuana users have historically done. In all cases I wish the First Church of Cannabis great success in their battle for peace and personal freedom.