In 2014, police raided Ashley Firnschild’s Golden Valley home and found a pot lab in the basement. She pleaded guilty to possession. Then she found God.
Turns out, there’s a religious order in Indiana with a sacramental mission to smoke marijuana and be free. It’s called the First Church of Cannabis, and it was founded in March by Bill Levins. Levins, having a stroke of divine inspiration, declared himself Grand Poobah of the Cannaterians in response to the Hoosier state’s notorious Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows businesses to freely discriminate against gays.
Firnschild now counts herself as a disciple, so when her probation officer ratted her out for imbibing the holy plant, she accused the state of trampling all over her First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
After all, being a good Cannaterian may include some prohibitions – trolling on the internet and being an asshole are counted as sins according to church doctrine – but there’s no way around getting high for true believers.
Regardless of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s eye-rolling over Firnschild’s defense, our immediate question was this: How does one sign up for the First Church of Cannabis?
Turns out, it’s easier than getting an online ordination. Just fill out an application and donate an annual tithe of $50.40 (or $4.20 a month). From there, members in good standing with the board of directors could get ordained as ministers, or approved to plant churches in their own communities. The church has rounded up more than a thousand devotees around the world, all without proselytizing.
Levins preaches from the pulpit of a former Christian church every Wednesday evening. He's officiated at least one wedding. Yet, sadly, no one has been able to smoke in church because local police threatened to arrest anybody who does. The one love message notwithstanding, Levins is fighting back with a religious liberties lawsuit against Indiana bigwigs from Gov. Mike Pence on down to Marion County Sheriff John Layton.
The state will have to show that Cannaterians would risk public safety if they were allowed to practice their religion, which is also Freeman's challenge. The prosecutor seems confident he could take on Firnschild, but perhaps he shouldn't get too comfortable.
Religious freedom laws have long allowed peyote in Native American ceremonies and animal sacrifice in Santeria. Catholics routinely give kids wine at Mass. In 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals let St. Paul's Jordan Arend off the hook for having a pipe in his possession because he's a practicing Rastafarian.