Indiana's law that was intended to allow people to discriminate against others in the name of religion has become a 'public policy Frankenstein' as one of my old college professors would put it. The law took on a life of it's own, and has had at least one unintended (yet positive!) consequence. The same freedom of religion law in Indiana has resulted in the state's first cannabis church. I am friends with the church's founder (Bill Levin) on Facebook, and it sounds like he is still searching for the location for the church, but has quite a few leads.
This week the church received tax-exempt status from the IRS. Per Marijuana Business Daily:
Marijuana business owners suffering from tax issues may need to find religion: The First Church of Cannabis in Indiana has been granted tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.
The church, whose founder will grow hemp and reportedly allow cannabis consumption on its premises, was approved by the secretary of state under Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to Forbes.
Churches benefit from being considered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entities and in many cases don't pay federal or state corporate taxes or state income, excise or sales taxes. They can also extend donors tax deductions on charitable donations.
This move by the IRS is significant for many reasons. I think my friend Jason Thomas of Avalon Realty Advisors Inc. and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition put it best:
As the IRS has given tax exempt status to this first cannabis church, they have given tacit approval that cannabis in this context is recognized as legitimate in tax law and as a new protected class. They already recognize and act on the negative enforcement aspects that licensed cannabis businesses face (ie. 280e) which is the flip side of the same coin. While the IRS' position on this church may not seem that important, it is. Did you hear the shoe drop?
The first church service is expected to occur on July 1st when the new Indiana law takes effect. All eyes will be on the congregation, and on law enforcement, to see if things go smoothly.