When I sat down for my Skype interview with Bill Levin, the founder and “Grand Poobah” of Indianapolis’ Church of Cannabis, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The photo of him on the church’s website suggested I’d be meeting with a Billy Idol impersonator with a Summer of Love attitude. No description or mere picture, however, could prepare me for the reality of Minister Bill whose upbeat, jocular personality immediately fills a room with love and good vibes (even from 1000 miles away). While articles on him and his church love to trade on the sensationalism of the story and the objectively incompatible idea of merging church and cannabis, upon entering into conversation with Bill, it quickly becomes clear that rather than praying to the god of reefer, for him, marijuana is simply a means to an end. A health supplement that allows his parishioners to more readily access a state of pure love and happiness. It dawned on me that the Church of Cannabis is not some sacrilegious, incongruous mash-up of ideas, but rather one of the most authentically spiritual, open-minded religious environments in America, inspiring congregants to live life with bliss and grace. And who amongst us couldn’t use a little bit more of both of those?
MJ: Could you talk about the specifics of your religion?
We have twelve suggested pathways of life which are called the deity dozen and can be found on our web page. We celebrate great adventure. Rather than have somebody come up and bore you with a 45 minute sermon, we bring parishioners up to share something cool that has happened in their lives that week. So it’s a celebration, it’s a reaffirmation of love, community, and companionship. Everybody leaves and they’re going like this (holds face) because their cheeks hurt. They smile so much, I mean, we’re the only church that has balloons. We have kids in the aisle, we have dogs that come in to visit, everybody gets a hug and if it’s a dog, you get a scratch behind the ear and a treat. It’s a beautiful celebration of life and all the good, positive, wonderful things that go on. It’s about embracing the beauty of what we are.
MJ: And what role does marijuana play in that?
We believe that it is a health supplement, that it is a sacrament, that it brings us closer to ourselves and closer to others. It opens our heart to love. It’s a beautiful thing. It is a food, it is a fuel, it is a textile. It’s only been illegal for the last 80 years and that’s what this is about. This is about the 80 years of dark lies that have choked the growth and the progress of this plant. Prior to this, this plant was in everybody’s medicine cabinet. Before they had popcorn, people ate dried hemp seeds. We’re just embracing what life is without unrealistic burdens.
MJ: Right now, marijuana can’t legally be involved in the service, correct?
Legally, we cannot celebrate life and use cannabis as our sacrament because of undecided legal issues we have here in the state of Indiana.
MJ: And you’re taking legal action?
We’re taking legal action, make no mistake about it. We get lawyer bills so we are taking legal action.
MJ: Could you talk a little bit about what you hope to achieve through that?
Religious freedom. This is our religion. We’re 100% within all legal guidelines of being a religion, so just fighting for our religious freedom. Plain and simple.
MJ: Do you think being granted your religious freedom could help initiate change in your state?
I hope to see it worldwide. Love has no boundaries, it has no borders. It’s about being positive in an environment, to bring affirmation, to bring love back into life. We don’t use those three words enough: I. Love. You. We should, we use every other word in the world. How many times a day do you say the swear words? Everybody uses them! Let’s forget about those for a minute, and let’s embrace three words that have more meaning than all the swear words combined. I love you. I love you. I love you. It makes you feel good, it makes you smile, it fills your heart with joy. It’s embracing each others heart with a greeting.
MJ: Have people expressed interest in bringing your church to their cities?
We have worldwide interest, different countries all over the world have got hold of this. We’ve been translated into 27 different languages. We’re growing rapidly. We’ve only been established since March 28, and we’re having a fabulous time. What do you do? Well, I spread love. Why do you do that? Because it’s needed and welcomed!
MJ: How do you hope to see your church grow in the future?
To successfully win this case and then to charter the church worldwide. I see one next to every Starbucks.
MJ: What are some common misconceptions people have about your church?
One of the most common is, oh, you pray to reefer, you’re weird! No, we don’t. We celebrate life’s great adventure with a health supplement. The knowledge and wisdom of what the plant is all about is gifted through the Internet, Google it! You can learn a lot. We’re here to put a smile on every face and fill every heart with love and cannabis is a sacrament that helps us do it. It’s a beautiful thing and you experience it literally with the body.
MJ: So your church is more about love and happiness, and marijuana is a means of accessing that?
Yes! It’s a health supplement, it’s a clother, it’s a food, it’s a plant that we are hardwired to accept. We have an endocannabinoid system within our body, much like a nervous system, and if our body evolved needing those nutrients to keep us healthy and there’s only one plant in the world that has it, obviously we are meant to intake this plant. We would not have evolved with this system in our body and that plant on this planet had we not been meant to be together. It’s been our friend and companion for decades, millennia. It’s just some mad men in the thirties wanted to increase profit and bigotry across our country and they managed to do so. Hopefully, we will reverse this freedom and celebrate life’s great adventure with joy in our hearts. One toke, one smile, one love.