INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (June 26, 2015) – The founder of an Indianapolis church that plans to worship with marijuana says the threat of arrest will not deter members.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and IMPD Chief Rick Hite hosted a press conference Friday morning to discuss law enforcement at The First Church of Cannabis’ first service scheduled for July 1.
They wanted to reiterate that marijuana is an illegal drug, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, does not create immunity from prosecution just because it’s under the guise of religious practice.
“Possession of marijuana is a crime in Indiana and there is no exception for where marijuana is possessed,” IMPD Chief Rick Hite stated. “Anyone who attends this or any other event and brings marijuana will potentially be subject to arrest or summons and criminal charges. If someone gives marijuana to another individual, that is a crime of dealing marijuana and also subject to arrest or summons and criminal charges.”
In fact, anyone present at all at the event could be charged with visiting a common nuisance, Curry said.
“We’re making it clear up front that any violation of the law, any attempt to violate the law puts yourself in harms away. Don’t allow anyone to do that. We have our tactical plan in place. We will have people out making sure people are safe. But I suggest your stay away,” said Chief Hite.
Founder Bill Levin spoke to FOX59 at his church on Friday evening, saying the news conference caught him off guard, after he'd met with Curry twice to discuss the planned service.
"We’re going to have our services, there’s no question about it. This is a great celebration of love and the beginning of a wonderful new religion," Levin said.
Levin has been public about the church's plan to smoke marijuana at its first service, scheduled on July 1, the same day that RFRA goes into effect.
Last month, the IRS granted non-profit, tax-exempt status to the church.
Curry said he believed the problem lay just as much with the RFRA law itself as with Levin, calling the entire ordeal a political act that was inevitable given the lack of provision in the law preventing it from being used as a defense in court.
"I am beyond frustrated that we are having to devote valuable time and resources to this matter solely because of an ill-advised and unnecessary law enacted by our legislature," Curry said.
Levin said that he agreed that anyone on probation or with an active warrant should be arrested at the service, but that he thought police would instead hand out court summons to those who partake.
"I believe it’ll be a paper invitation party, where they will be just merely inviting us to a court case downtown and we’ll gladly go down. I look forward to a day in court," Levin said.
Bill Jenkins, Pastor of Church of Acts, was also present at the press conference. He said he doesn’t believe The First Church of Cannabis is an actual church, and he’s trying to stop the first service from happening. “We do have concern, it is a neighborhood. There are tons of kids riding their bikes outside. There are tons of people that are outside. If we allow intoxicated people to leave that property, we certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen that would harm or hurt them,” said Jenkins.