IRS gives its blessing to newly-formed 'First Church of Cannabis' in Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS (June 3, 2015) – The Internal Revenue Service has given its blessing to Indiana's newly-formed First Church of Cannabis.
The church formed in response to the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Now the IRS has awarded Levin a nonprofit tax-exempt status.
"I am one of the few Americans who say 'I love the IRS,'" Bill Levin, the church's founder said outside his Indianapolis home. "There are people out there scratching their heads wanting to know how this happened, and I can answer that in one simple question: Love. Love works in mysterious ways."
Read the IRS letter here.
Indiana's controversial law may see its first true test from Levin, the self-described "grand poobah" and "minister of love."
"It's a church like any other church," he said. "We do loving things for our community. We take care of our own. We celebrate life. We have faith in love. We have spiritual church meetings. We celebrate life's great adventure."
Levin said marijuana is his church's holy sacrament and Indiana's religious freedom law was his green light.
"Well it was a gift from the state of Indiana to my creative mind," he said. "And I appreciate the gift, and I talked it over with God, and we decided this is the best path to take."
Legal experts say the law opens the door to new legal challenges like the First Church of Cannabis.
"Sure, it will raise the RFRA issue," Robert Katz said, a law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. "It just won't get very far along the path."
Levin said he's assembled a team of attorneys who will use the religious freedom law as a defense if needed in court.
Legal experts say the church will have a high burden to prove.
"It seems to me unlikely they would be able to establish that they are a bonafide religion and that might be the end of the matter."
The government, meantime, under the religious freedom law would have to prove a compelling reason to interfere with religious practices.
When asked if he'll join members in smoking, Levin responded, "Oh yeah. I'm lighting up. There's no question about it."
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $11,000 for the church.
Levin plans to hold his first service on July 1, the same day the religious freedom law takes effect, although an exact location has to be confirmed.
Levin said it's been a challenge finding a permanent home in Indianapolis.
"It is the beginning of a great new religion," he said. "It's a beautiful thing. We're blossoming things here."