An Indiana judge has ruled against the First Church of Cannabis, an Indianapolis church seeking to offer its members marijuana as a holy sacrament.
Judge Sheryl Lynch of the Marion Circuit Court decided Friday that the state of Indiana had a “compelling interest” in preventing marijuana possession, the Indianapolis Star reports.
Allowing religious exemptions for marijuana use would have an overall negative impact on society, Lynch said. She also argued that an exemption would put Indiana’s police officers in the difficult position of having to evaluate the sincerity of a marijuana user’s religious faith.
“The undisputed evidence demonstrates that permitting a religious exemption to laws that prohibit the use and possession of marijuana would hinder drug enforcement efforts statewide and negatively impact public health and safety,” Lynch wrote in a summary judgment.
The First Church of Cannabis first filed its lawsuit in 2015 in response to Indiana passing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The measure, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R), reaffirmed that the government can’t substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion. Civil liberties and gay rights groups criticized the measure, arguing that business owners could cite their religious beliefs to deny serving LGBTQ people.
The First Church of Cannabis, which says it is a religious entity with its own sacred texts, rituals and holidays, sought to use RFRA in another way. The church claimed that Indiana’s laws against possessing marijuana have substantially burdened church members’ right to freely exercise their religion.
The group considers marijuana to be a “healing plant” that “brings us closer to ourselves and others,” according to the original complaint filed in 2015. “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,” the complaint reads.
The First Church of Cannabis is recognized as a nonprofit corporation by the Internal Revenue Service.
Indiana’s attorney general, Curtis Hill, called the church a “pro-marijuana political crusade that turned into a legal stunt.”
“Indiana’s laws against the possession, sale and use of marijuana protect the health, safety and well-being of Hoosiers statewide,” Hill said in a statement released to the Indianapolis Star. “When the state has justifiable and compelling interests at stake, no one can evade the law simply by describing their illegal conduct as an exercise of religious faith.”
The group’s attorney, Mark Small, told HuffPost that he disagrees with Lynch’s decision and is seeking to take further action.
“We shall pursue the appropriate ‘next step’ procedurally,” Small wrote in an email.
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