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Marijuana church given tax-exempt status in Indiana: ‘Somebody at the IRS loves us’

A note from Al:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act got its start by Congresses reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Employment Division vs. Smith. Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion argued that Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state law prohibiting the use of peyote, even though the use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. This was a disappointing decision that seemed to empty the First Amendment’s free exercise clause of much meaning but Justice Scalia did write that the State of Oregon was free to accommodate the use or ban it since prohibition of drugs was a general law applicable to all and did not target American Indians who use peyote.

Certain American Indian tribes sacralize certain psychoactive substances. By ingesting peyote and other substances, they believe a door opens on the divine. This is a sincerely held religious precept because these substances provide contact with the divine especially when ingested during sacred rituals. I’ve experienced what I call “pseudo-mystical” experiences as a teenager under LSD.

For most LSD is a recreational drug. But for many like the novelist Aldous Huxley dropping “acid” was an attempt to experience the transcendent by altering their consciousness and seeing into higher spheres of consciousness.

All that to say that there is a long history of sincere religious use of these substances.

Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis is not sincere about mystical experience. He is a gadfly playing legal games to expose what he thinks is hypocrisy. His are not sincerely held religious beliefs.

He is living in a culture that has forgotten the beliefs and practices that gave rise to the First Amendment. He wants to proslytize the wonderfulness of the gift. That was never the intention of the First Amendment or Native Americans. Unfortunately, our culture has changed and no longer has the power of discernment to recognize sincerely held beliefs from mere opportunistic commercialism or activism.

– Al Kresta

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The IRS has incorporated an Indianapolis marijuana-smoking church as a tax-exempt religious organization.

Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis in Indianapolis, was notified of the approval last week, which will now allow donors to deduct contributions on their taxes, the CNHI Indiana Statehouse Bureau reported Saturday. IRS documents provided by Mr. Levin confirmed the agency’s approval, CNHI said.

“Somebody at the IRS loves us because we got it back in less than 30 days,” Mr. Levin told Tax Analysts’ David van den Berg.

The church is currently in negotiations for two spaces in Indianapolis and plans to “proselytize the wonderfulness of the gift that this plant is to our human nature,” Mr. Levin said.

So far, more than 600 members have paid amounts ranging from $4.20 to $1,000 to join the church, Mr. Levin said. Fundraising is being conducted partly on gofundme.com, where the church has raised over $10,800.

The church’s first service is scheduled for July 1 — the day the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act goes into effect.

 The recreational and medicinal consumption of marijuana is still illegal in Indiana, posing an issue to members of the church, or “Cannabiterians,” who believe in using the drug on a daily basis as a sacrament. Mr. Levin said he started the church to test the application of the new law that bans government from interfering with the exercise of religion, CNHI reported.

The secretary of state has already officially recognized the church as a religious, nonprofit corporation, according to state officials, with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all,” CNHI reported.

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