IMPD, prosecutor roll out response plans for First Church of Cannabis service 

Curry: I warned legislature this would happen before RFRA was passed

click to enlarge Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry and IMPD Chief Rick Hite explain how law enforcement will respond to the First Church of Cannabis. - AMBER STEARNS
  • Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry and IMPD Chief Rick Hite explain how law enforcement will respond to the First Church of Cannabis.
  • Amber Stearns

As the First Church of Cannabis prepares for its inaugural service July 1, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Marion County prosecutor’s office are making their own plans.

Prosecutor Terry Curry announced IMPD officers will be present for the service and will abide by what is law in Indiana. And the law says marijuana is illegal.

“Anyone caught in possession of marijuana will be subject to arrest,” said Curry in a Friday morning press conference. “Anyone caught giving marijuana to another individual will be subject to arrest for dealing.”

Curry outlined all of the potential causes for arrest at the church service. Anyone attending the service, if marijuana is present, could be subject to arrest for probation violation or for visiting a common nuisance even if they choose not to partake in the church’s “sacrament.” Anyone who tries to drive away from the church while high is subject to arrest for operating under the influence. Any and all possible criminal code violations will be enforced. He also stressed that no minor child should be in the vicinity of the church.

The First Church of Cannabis plans to hold their first church service Wednesday, July 1 at noon when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes affect in Indiana. The creation of the church is considered to be a direct response to the RFRA, which allows those with deeply held religious beliefs to freely practice those believes without interference from the government unless the state has a compelling interest. Church creator and minister of love Bill Levin contends that marijuana is the sacrament of the church and partaking of its healing and spiritual power is essential to their religion. Curry countered the use, possession and exchange of marijuana is illegal in the state of Indiana, which is the compelling interest of the government. He also said RFRA is not an immunity, but rather a cause for defense.

Curry and IMPD Chief Rick Hite agreed police officers would be present at the First Church of Cannabis Wednesday, but did not specify exactly where officers would be. Whether or not people will be arrested and hauled out of the church in handcuffs or issued a summons after the fact will depend on the decorum of the service and the number of people involved. Curry noted he spoke with Levin on several occasions and tried to come to an agreement on a “best case scenario” — one that would involve just a couple of people using marijuana and surrendering themselves to arrest instead of a whole congregation lighting up. However Levin has not indicated if that will be the scenario next Wednesday.

click to enlarge The church will host its first service July 1 at noon. - ED WENCK
  • The church will host its first service July 1 at noon.
  • Ed Wenck

The prosecutor and the police chief laid out in as much detail as they were willing to provide on what will happen during the lunch hour next Wednesday. But, they were not happy about any of it. Curry said he feels this whole scenario is a political statement that is taking resources away from the real public safety issues facing Indianapolis.

“To date there have been 52 homicides in Indianapolis,” said Curry, speaking for himself and not on behalf of the city or the police department. “I am beyond frustrated that this matter has to be addressed because of an ill-advised law.”

Curry referred to the open letter to the General Assembly he penned March 18 warning that if RFRA passed, this very thing would happen — the invocation of RFRA to justify illegal activity. He said the General Assembly created this by making marijuana illegal and by passing RFRA.

“What choice do we have?” asked Curry. He explained that the criminal code and RFRA put his office and law enforcement in a difficult situation. They could abide by and enforce the law as they have sworn to do or choose not be pawns in a political statement and let illegal activity happen. Curry said while he believes this basis of the church and this service is purely political, he has not choice but to do the duty he has sworn to do.

The prosecutor added that the only way to correct this situation outside of the criminal justice system would be for the General Assembly to repeal RFRA entirely.

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Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

Bio:
Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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