I spent a lot of time explaining the law regarding religious drug use to drug law blog Recently. Much of the same law applies equally to cannabis. Naturally, I want to answer a similar question here: Are cannabis churches legal? The answer is that it is “legal” in essentially the same sense that cannabis business is legal: it violates federal law but can comply with state law if it is licensed. Let’s break it down.
Are cannabis churches federal legal?
As noted, I have written extensively about these issues on our site sister blog We will not re-disaggregate them in detail here. At the 10,000-foot level, the First Amendment protects religious liberties. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that this protection could extend to legal drug use. His reasoning applies equally to cannabis use.
After the aforementioned case, the DEA created a file Procedure To petition for religious exemptions from the Controlled Substances Act. While this was intended for a drug, there is no reason why cannabis churches should not file a petition either. But — and that’s a big “but” — the DEA will be sitting on the petitions for years. And if the petitioners were “lucky” enough to get a response, it would be a refusal.
In the million-to-one chances (maybe higher?) the DEA says yes, things don’t end there. The DEA makes clear that the petitioner will still need to comply with state law. This leads me to the next point.
State churches legal cannabis?
I am not aware of any country that prohibits religious groups from obtaining cannabis licenses. In California, my home state, a license for nonprofit organizations can be obtained. This includes religious nonprofits, although I’ve never seen that before.
At the same time, I’m also not aware of any state that exempts religious groups from licensing. Why are they? States love tax revenue (many would argue they like it a little or a lot, but I digress). I have been asked on more than one occasion if a company that wants to sell cannabis in one of the California cities that prohibits it can simply declare itself a religion and avoid obtaining a license. It’s a very easy “no” – well, if they want to follow state/local law.
Can cannabis churches legally operate as nonprofits?
The answer to this question is very complex. State law may allow cannabis churches to incorporate as nonprofit corporations. But that doesn’t mean they qualify as Section 501(c)(3) corporations of the Internal Revenue Code. I recently Wrote About 501(c)(3) denials are to cannabis drug companies, and the reasoning is the same for cannabis churches. Decades ago, the IRS to explain Organizations that engage in illegal behavior cannot obtain tax-exempt status. Recently, IRS recently Refusal 501(c)(3) business case for medical cannabis. Conclusively, cannabis churches and 501(c)(3) status do not mix, no matter how they are set up.