Hemp, the First Church of Cannabis, and Citizen Responsibility in the Hoosier State

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Throughout its history, Indiana has been one of the most notable states to bolster their desire to maintain and protect conservative values. The Hoosier state has had a great deal of tumultuous multi-cultural history, and in March of 2015, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act rehashed that environment in folds. The purpose of the RFRA (SB 101) was to provide a legal defense for companies and individuals who felt that the practice of their religion had been burdened or is likely to be so.

Indiana the Hoosier State

Immediately in response to the bill’s passing, companies such as Angie’s list, salesforce.com and even the entirety of Gen Con, conveyed to Indiana that they intended to stop any plans they had within state; because of the bill’s blatant protection of segregationist ideologies.

There were eventually a few companies in the state who put such ideologies to practice, and they did so by publicly stating that they would not host any same-sex marriages, although they would still serve said couples. However, as the cultural dynamic festered continuously, something beautiful was beginning to blossom in the heart of it.

Bill Levin takes the stage

On the very same day that the RFRA was signed into law, Bill Levin was approved to found The First Church of Cannabis. As background, in the 1980’s a colleague at the time had told Bill, “…there will never be any shows other than cover bands in Broad Ripple…”, and if ever there were such a thing as fighting words for Bill, telling that man that he can’t do something will only further his drive. Time passed, as it does, and in having been the figurehead who brought about and founded Indiana’s renowned Broad Ripple arts scene as it is today, Bill had made quite a reputation for himself locally.

Bill Levin of First Church of Cannabis

Since the legal defense of practicing religious freedom was inherent in the bill’s wording, Bill could now legally gather individuals who believe that the sacrament of cannabis is vital to their religious beliefs. The state adamantly opposed the church, however all they could legally do was stigmatize the church and its pastor. Little did they realize how dubious of an undertaking that would come to be.

Located in the heart of Indianapolis, The First Church of Cannabis was immediately surrounded by CCTV cameras and police warning signs were strewn across the neighborhood stating that the area is a “known crime watch zone.” The local enforcement agencies did this as a means to hopefully scare off newcomers to the church before even attending a service.  However, with the church’s core values being live, love, laugh, learn, create, grow and teach, the congregation could quickly tell that the city just didn’t approve of their religious sacrament and had no issue with them aside from that.

First Church of Cannabis

After all, the First Church of Cannabis celebrates all gods and goddesses, and the One Love choir and congregation collectively offers praise to one another in the forms of song and love. To add to the loving environment, the church has a celebration podium instead of a confessional, and they celebrate life and its great adventure, instead of focusing on atonement.

NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) had a reasonable presence in Indiana in the early 2010’s, however once the First Church of Cannabis made national headlines, NORML’s membership started to soar in Indiana.  And after the political environment surrounding the church had settled, Bill paired up with NORML to combine their credibility with his local renown, and the Hoosier state quickly felt the waves of their coming together.

Two years passed, and numerous rallies were held at the state house, and as each one had was held, greater numbers of attendants started turning up, thus it seemed that the Hoosier state was on track for either decriminalization or full legalization by the end of 2018.

Then came the 2018 Farm Bill.

After congress voted to allow hemp to be cultivated and grown for cannabinoids and stalks, Indiana was immediately alarmed and quickly started gearing up for a response. CBD and hemp quickly swept over the state in a matter of weeks. Given that Indiana has one of the most pervasive opiate addiction problems throughout the entire U.S., it wasn’t a shock that many citizens were turning to this plant to find relief. Indiana’s economy is also heavily dependent upon its agricultural output, therefore it seemed that hemp and CBD could serve to benefit many citizens in the state, regardless of how they chose to use the plant. However, the powers that be had other plans.

Farm Bill Hemp

From the moment the 2018 Farm Bill was legally recognized, Indiana was immediately ready to “serve and protect.” As it was, all hemp-derived products were required to have a QR code linking to a unique lab analysis for that product, and THC percentages needed to be added together in Indiana (whilst still having a limit of 0.3% by volume).

Fast forward to July 1st of 2019, and Indiana had banned smoke-able hemp flower. This applied to hemp that was individually possessed, sold at retail locations AND hemp that was in transit through the state. Some eyebrows were raised here, as the state of Indiana was attempting to intervene in federally legal interstate commerce. Thereafter, in September of 2019, local businesses (Indy E Cigs, C.Y. Wholesale, CBD Store of Fort Wayne, DREEM Nutrition, Indiana CBD Wellness and 5 Star Medicinal Products) and one not for profit (Midwest Hemp Council) took it upon themselves to file a federal injunction to stop the state’s prohibitionist actions. The injunction was immediately granted on account of the clear disregard for federal law.

Peace was short lived. In January of 2020, Indiana legislators attempted to vilify hemp flower again by saying that, “…it poses a threat to public safety,” in their proposed bill HB 1293. It’s also worth noting that the “threat” of hemp is only mentioned at all because local enforcement agencies are not currently equipped to distinguish typical cannabis against hemp flower. Were the bill passed as is, it would attempt to overthrow the federal injunction on Indiana’s retail hemp flower, however it would protect hemp flower that is engaged in interstate commerce. Thereby appeasing the companies outside Indiana and making any further lawsuits significantly more challenging because of a lack of outside concern and funding.

Get Involved, Hoosiers

At this point, it is undeniably evident that the citizens of Indiana need to be involved with cannabis legislation, if they wish to be able to get access to this life-saving plant. If so, it will mean that when a district attorney (i.e. Marion county) says they will no longer prosecute low quantity possession charges, then perhaps the state legislature will not attempt to overthrow someone whom they themselves put into that position in the first place.

There were 10 pro-cannabis bills for the 2020 session in Indiana, and not one of them was given a hearing, because the citizens didn’t let their senators know what they wanted! Time and again, polls show that Hoosiers want access to cannabis, thus the only thing keeping them from that is civilian complacency. Even the government must bend to the will of the people, but they will ONLY do so when the people stand, speak and walk with each other.

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Daniel Hubbuch

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