Church that worships marijuana granted tax-exempt status by IRS

Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington.Reuters

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has officially granted tax-exempt status to a church in Indiana that worships marijuana.

The First Church of Cannabis has already been recognized by the US government as a religious non-profit organisation, a Fox News report said.

The tax-exempt status allows the church avail itself of all the benefits granted by the federal government to a public charity. The benefits include deductions from financial contributions, auditing by the IRS only at a certain extent, eligibility to receive tax-deductible gifts and many more, according to Huffington Post.

Bill Levin, the 59-year-old founder of the church, said his goal was to "smoke in fellowship with other disciples," according to Christian Headlines. Although the church does not have a meeting place yet, Levin and his group are planning to hold their first service on July 1 as Indiana's religious freedom law is bound to take effect on that date.

The church claims in its Go Fund Me page that its denomination represents love and faith, with cannabis being its "sacrament."

The Go Fund Me description states, "Are other religions just not [satisfying] your need for spirituality? Has your faith left the standard church doctrine? Well I have an answer. I have created the FIRST CHURCH OF CANNABIS. A church based on LOVE and FAITH with the plant we know and love." The page has raised more than $11,000 for the church over the past months.

Levin said Indiana's religious freedom law was his "green light." He said his group has lawyers who will defend the church in court using the religious freedom law if needed.

The IRS' move gained mostly negative reactions from various sects and groups. Robert Katz, a law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said, "Sure, it will raise the RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] issue [but] it just won't get very far along the path. "It seems to me unlikely they would be able to establish that they are a bona-fide religion and that might be the end of the matter."

But while legal practitioners and experts say the First Church of Cannabis will have to prove a lot before it gets accepted by many, the government would have to provide a legitimate cause for meddling with religious affairs.