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Indianapolis has a marijuana church. Learn about First Church of Cannabis, how it started, how to join

Marina Johnson

Indianapolis Star

May 12th, 2024


Did you know Indianapolis has a place of worship dedicated to marijuana?

Testing the bounds of religious freedom, this establishment was created to respond to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, opening its doors the same day the law went into effect.

"This is what I live by, and I have more faith in this religion than any other," Bill Levin, founder of the Church of Cannabis told IndyStar in May 2015. "This is my lifestyle. This is millions of people's lifestyle." Here's what we know.

What is the Church of Cannabis?

The First Church of Cannabis was founded by Levin in 2015 in response to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by former governor Mike Pence on March 26, 2015, and went into effect on July 1, 2015.

When the law finally went into effect on July 1, the doors of Levin's beloved establishment opened that same day, as previously reported by the IndyStar. According to the First Church of Cannabis website, the group's mission is to "celebrate life's great adventure by building on compassion, good health, and love."

While the group is unable to participate in the "holy sacrament" of being able to light up at their regular Wednesday service, they've found other ways to fill the time, according to the IndyStar. A typical service starts with a shorter sermon from Levin before opening the floor to members to discuss concerns. They also perform a "diety dozen," with affirmations of marijuana as a means of healing. Learn more about the "diety dozen" here.

Where is the First Church of Cannabis?

The First Church of Cannabis is located at 3400 S Rural St. in Indianapolis.

Who founded the First Church of Cannabis?

Levin, 68, founder and leader of the First Church of Cannabis, is a long-standing marijuana advocate who began working with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in the late 19990s, according to the church's website. He eventually started his own pro-cannabis organization, ReLegalize Indiana.

Levin also ran for political positions as a Libertarian in the early 2010s, with marijuana legislation as a key focus, but came up short. When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed, "Bill took this as an opportunity to establish The First Church of Cannabis on the basis of 'Cannatarian' religion where love is the most important and including the sacrament, cannabis," according to Church of Cannabis.

Marijuana Church challenges Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Levin and the Church of Cannabis filed a lawsuit against the state of Indiana, Pence and Attorney General Greg Zoeller in July 2015 with the claim that denying them the right to smoke in public infringes on religious freedom. A second lawsuit was filed on March 3, 2016 against the city of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and former Police Chief Rick Hite.

The filed suits argued that members' use of marijuana at the Church of Cannabis should be protected under Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but was dismissed by the Indiana Court of Appeals in December of 2018.

"I feel sorry for the people who are not educated in this subject matter," Levin previously said to the IndyStar. "We'll keep doing what we're doing, because we're doing God's work."

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