NUVO: Do you remember the first time you smoked pot?
Bill Levin:Up in my treehouse when I was probably 11 or 12. I came to a good understanding of the plant as a health benefit, and I didn't understand why people lied about it. And I've carried a torch for it ever since. I'm ready to talk about it any time anyone will let me bend their ear.
For thirteen years, Prohibition created a black market on the sale and purchase of alcohol. From 1920 to 1933, the map of the United States was dotted with mountain moonshine stills, swampland speakeasies, secret city backroom supper clubs and farmland gin mills. The 18th Amendment was generally hated by the population, and easily three-fourths of the country was in favor of its repeal. By the time Prohibition ended, Franklin Roosevelt publicly looked back on those dry years as "a damnable affliction".
The only caveat to the 18th Amendment that allowed for even the slightest bit of alcohol consumption? Communion wine. This stringent law allowed for communion wine to be utilized during Catholic Mass. Needless to say, anyone running a vineyard during the early part of the twentieth century was always happy to see a Catholic coming their way.
Today, many view the statutes outlawing marijuana as another Prohibition through which the country must suffer.
Readers will, of course, remember our recent WEED ISSUE. In it, you read about Bill Levin's First Church of Cannabis. You read how the story of his church is a direct result of Pence's signing the RFRA bill into law. You know that the church's story has gone global, and – come July 1 – there may be many people who show up to puff up in solidarity of marijuana as a religious sacrament as well as a healing remedy and recreational herb.
NUVO spoke with Levin about his upcoming public spiritual debut. Supporters see Levin's new contribution to Indiana's metaphysical landscape as one of the few positives to thus far come out of the RFRA debacle. Once a lobbyist committed to the legalization of marijuana, Levin saw the signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a backdoor opportunity to gain some ground.
NUVO: When did you begin lobbying to have the marijuana ban repealed?
Bill Levin: In 2009 I sort of cut loose. It had to be done. I had to go from a quiet homebody to stepping up on a soapbox and speaking the gospel.
NUVO: How frustrating is it – have you ever reached a point where you just thought 'I quit. This is ridiculous. This state is hopeless'?
Levin: Never give up.
NUVO: Did Pence's signing the RFRA give you the idea to start this church, or had it been simmering in your mind for a while already?
Levin: It was just one of those karmic things that all came together at one time.
Photos by Michelle Craig
- Bill Levin, Minister of Love and Grand Pooba of the First Church of Cannabis
NUVO: How big a factor do you think religion has played in keeping marijuana illegal for so long?
Levin: I don't think religion has had anything to do with keeping it illegal. I think voluntary ignorance has kept it illegal.
NUVO: What would you say to people who are either very religious or just very closed-minded on the subject of marijuana – who believe it is evil simply because it's been arbitrarily labeled as illegal?
Levin: That I am a nice Jewish carpenter who is preaching love, compassion and understanding for all while helping everybody do good things for themselves to be healthy. If they can't relate to that they should go back and look at the book from which they've been practicing.
NUVO: Do you intend to have weekly services? What will that schedule be like?
Levin: We'll be a fully functioning church. My biggest fear is that it'll go twenty-four hours.
NUVO: How long did it take you to create the Deity Dozen?
Levin: That was an interesting session. It took me the better part of a day to really do some soul-searching. If you had to sit down with God and say, "Dude, I know you got a message you want to get out to the planet. How would you go about doing it? What would you do? How would you do it?" Keep it fucking simple. It's all about love, understanding, compassion and good health. More people have died over those "magic books" than cannabis. Let's just speak about love and celebrate life and good health because cannabis is the greatest health supplement on the face of the earth.
NUVO: Are people encouraged to bring their own pot to the service or will the "sacrament" be provided for them?
Levin: The church will not buy, sell or trade in any illegal substance in the state of Indiana.
NUVO: Are you at all worried about law enforcement showing up to your first service?
Levin: They don't show up to other religious services where they poison children with alcohol. Why would they show up to mine?
Substantial point. Authorities didn't show up at Catholic churches during Prohibition — so will they show up at the FCC's new location, 3400 South Rural? The church has been recognized as a valid religious institution by the state, and it has been granted non-profit status by the federal government. Service participants will find out around noon on July 1 if the IMPD also recognizes the legitimacy of the church and its "sacrament". Local media and news networks have reached out to the prosecutor's office looking for answers, but – so far – no response or comment has been issued.
Whether or not law enforcement becomes involved, Levin's successes thus far could very well be paving the way for future cannabis state legislation and an eventual disintegration of the stringency of our laws and punishments with regard to marijuana.
The First Church of Cannabis' inaugural service will be held the same day as the RFRA bill officially becomes law. Visit their Facebook page for more information at Facebook.com/CANNABITERIAN. Also, knowledge is power. Educate yourself on Indiana's current marijuana laws and penalties at norml.org.