Court Rules Indiana RFRA Does Not Shield Cannabis Church From Drug Laws

By Don Byrd

Written by Don Byrd

A judge in Indiana has rejected a claim that the sacramental use of marijuana by the “First Church of Cannabis” warrants a religious accommodation from prosecution under drug laws. Applying the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the court ruled that the government has a clearly established compelling interest in enforcing drug laws that requires uniform application, without exception.

Accordingly, the court concluded, even if the church demonstrated that, for its congregants, marijuana use qualifies as religious exercise that is substantially burdened by drug laws, RFRA offers no protection in this instance. Most interesting to me in the judge’s order was his suggestion that in fact a greater threat to religious liberty could be posed by granting the plaintiff’s request than in denying it. That’s because, the judge reasoned, such an accommodation may improperly entangle law enforcement in making religious determinations.

Here is an excerpt from that portion of the order:

If some individuals are exempted, even for limited purposes, from the prohibition against using marijuana, law enforcement officers and investigators would need to make case-by-case determinations during criminal investigations whether an individual’s religious beliefs legally justify that particular use of cannabis. Law enforcement is not trained …read more

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