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James Risdon

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First Church of Cannabis’ dream of sacramental weed goes up in smoke

James Risdon

INDIANAPOLIS, July 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) - Smoking pot – even when people really, really believe it to be a necessary part of their religious beliefs – is still illegal in Indiana and police there can arrest those caught toking on the herb superb.

“When it comes to claims of sacramental marijuana use, regardless whether a party can show a substantial burden on a sincerely-held religious belief, the government nevertheless has a compelling interest in protecting public health and safety and enforcing marijuana prohibitions – without exemption for religious sacrament – is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest,” declared Judge Sheryl Lynch in her decision in Marion Circuit Court last Friday.

That American court’s decision comes only about three months before recreational marijuana sales become legal throughout Canada.

Not so in Indiana.

There, First Church of Cannabis Inc. claimed in its court action that marijuana use was a sacrament of its faith. So, it took the State of Indiana, then-Governor Mike Pence (now vice-president of the United States), Attorney General Gregory F. Zoeller, and Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas G. Carter to court a little more than two years ago.

First Church of Cannabis sells popcorn and has a gift shop that sells donated items and t-shirts, bumper stickers and other paraphernalia bearing its name. At least some of the church’s ministers pay a fee for their ordination. First Church of Cannabis also rents space to comedians, musicians, yoga instructors, and others.

On Facebook, First Church of Cannabis has 48,731 followers.

According to court documents, the church was planning – if successful with its legal action – to supply marijuana for use during its services and to sell joints at its gift shop.

“During the service, participants could ‘smok[e] as much … or as little as [they] want’ but will not be required to smoke marijuana at all,” the court documents reveal.

In making her decision, the judge had to consider the public health and safety aspects of marijuana use and whether restricting use of marijuana by First Church of Cannabis was the least restrictive way to protect the public.

Experts were brought into court. They expounded on the public health and safety hazards of marijuana use, even as a religious sacrament. Officials and lawyers for First Church of Cannabis did not provide contrary evidence to that expert testimony.

“Numerous scientific studies have shown that marijuana use ‘causes impairment in every performance area that can reasonably be connected with safe driving of a vehicle, such as tracking, motor coordination, visual functions, and particularly complex tasks that require divided attention,” wrote the judge in her decision. “Unsurprisingly, then, marijuana ‘ranks second (26.6 per cent) only to alcohol (30.6 per cent), in a study on the presence of drugs in accidents involving seriously injured drivers.”

Despite recognized health and safety concerns, recreational marijuana sales become legal in Canada Oct. 17.

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