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Secretive investment group sought Indiana marijuana business


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Tony Cook , tony.cook@indystar.com 6:06 a.m. ET April 16, 2017

Some of Indiana’s best-known former legislators and lobbyists joined a secret investment company that several investors say was formed to cash in if marijuana was ever legalized in Indiana.

Some of Indiana’s most influential lobbyists and political operatives joined a secretive investment company that several partners say has worked for years to cash in on the potential legalization of marijuana in Indiana.

The company, Hoosier Emerging Technologies, was created in late 2012 and is registered to Jim Purucker, one of the state’s most prominent alcohol and gaming lobbyists. Two investors in the company told IndyStar the primary aim was to influence legislation that would enable it to secure a place in the lucrative marijuana market.

The people Purucker recruited to invest in the company are a veritable who’s-who of top Indiana powerbrokers — Democrats and Republicans — an IndyStar investigation has found.

Among them: Former Indiana House speakers, former state campaign chairmen for Barack Obama and Donald Trump, high-powered lobbyists and some of the state’s most prolific political fundraisers. However, not all of them said they were aware of the company’s marijuana ambitions.

It does not appear the company and its investors broke any laws. Still, government accountability advocates worry that such a secretive alliance of insiders with undisclosed financial interests in legislation could undermine an already cynical public’s faith in state government.

“It’s everything you don’t want in government,” said Zachary Baiel, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government.

He and other government watchdogs said the situation reinforces their calls for more transparency and disclosure in state government.

Legislative leaders also expressed concerns.

“It bothers me a great deal,” Senate leader David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said in response to IndyStar’s findings. “It would appear that there were people trying to surreptitiously insert language to help create a monopoly. … It bothers me that people might be trying to manipulate the law for their own financial benefit.”

Purucker declined to comment for this story.

Three investors and another source familiar with the company told IndyStar that Purucker’s pitch was simple: Buy at least a single $1,000 share and you could hit the jackpot if marijuana becomes legal.

Only one of those sources agreed to speak publicly about the company.

“It had to do with an opportunity to make money with this company if marijuana was ever legalized in this state,” said investor Kip Tew, a former Indiana Democratic Party chairman who served as Obama’s campaign chairman in Indiana.

Tew and others said details about how the company would make money under such a scenario were vague.

“What was told to me was that the entity I invested in was going to invest in another entity that was going to provide some service to the distributors or retailers like in other states where it was legalized,” Tew said.

Three other investors told IndyStar they were unaware of the company’s marijuana ambitions.

The company was such a closely held secret that leaders of the General Assembly said they were unaware of its existence, even as some with an interest in the company advocated for language that found its way into bills and, in some cases, into law.

That legislation included the state’s controversial vaping law that took effect last year. It effectively made a single Indiana security company, Lafayette-based Mulhaupt’s Inc., the sole gatekeeper of the vaping industry. The regulatory framework established in the vaping law could eventually be used if marijuana was legalized in Indiana, according to two investors who requested anonymity

Tew and other investors said they did not know if Hoosier Emerging Technologies’ intent was to invest in Mulhaupt’s.

Mulhaupt’s owner Doug Mulhaupt did not return multiple messages left at his office, with his lobbyist and with a PR firm the company hired.

It is unclear exactly how many investors Purucker recruited, though several investors said there may have been dozens, including members from most large lobbying firms in Indianapolis.

The involvement of so many Statehouse influencers made it difficult for some opponents of the vaping legislation to find representation at the Statehouse, said Evan McMahon, whose group Hoosier Vapers fought against the legislation, but was unaware of Hoosier Emerging Technologies until recently.

“In 2015, when this first came up, we tried to find a lobbyist to represent our industry and every single person we talked to said they had a conflict,” he said.

At that time, McMahon said, he did not know there was what he described as “a shadow cabal working together for years.”

Dealing among friends

While some investors told IndyStar that HET’s focus was marijuana, another said vaping was key to the company’s plans.

“What I thought they were doing, as far as I know, is try to get a lock on the vapor thing,” said investor Rex Early, a former Indiana Republican Party Chairman who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Indiana.

He said he bought a $1,000 share of the company, but emphasized that he didn’t know about any marijuana connection.

“I never heard that,” he said. “I’m not a big marijuana guy. Do not put me in there as promoting marijuana.”

Former Indiana House Speaker Mike Phillips, now a lobbyist, acknowledged he and his son also put money into the company, but he also said marijuana was never discussed with him.

“We were of the mind it had to do with the high-tech development of the systems used in racetracks,” he said recently while sitting on a bench outside House Speaker Brian Bosma’s office.

Paul Mannweiler, another former House Speaker-turned-lobbyist who advocated for the vaping law, said neither vaping nor marijuana were discussed when he decided to put money into the company.

“I guess it could have included buying the USA TODAY, I don’t know,” he said, referring to the national news outlet owned by IndyStar’s parent company.

When asked how HET’s prospectus described the investment, he said he was “dealing among friends” and didn’t “remember reading anything.”

“I think Jim just said he was getting a group together,” he said. “I’ve worked with Jim on a number of issues. He’s a friend that I know to be a good person.”

Harmful side effects?

Two sources familiar with the company say many of its concepts were discussed informally over drinks at the Winner’s Circle, an off-track betting parlor in Downtown Indianapolis and a frequent hangout for lobbyists and lawmakers.

Purucker and his longtime client Rod Ratcliff were always at the center of the discussions, which typically took place in the betting parlor’s private Triple Crown Club, the sources said. Ratcliff is the chief executive of Centaur Gaming, which owns the Winner’s Circle and Indiana’s two horse track-casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville.

The off-track betting facility was an appropriate place to plan what was essentially a long shot gamble on marijuana legalization in staunchly conservative Indiana. Long and Bosma have consistently opposed legalizing even medical marijuana.

Some people with a stake in the company made several unsuccessful legislative attempts to create a license to distribute marijuana in 2013 and 2014. After that, Purucker and several other lobbyists with ties to Ratcliff and his Centaur Gaming company launched a massive lobbying effort in favor of the 2015 and 2016 vaping legislation.

Ratcliff did not return several messages from IndyStar. But a Centaur spokeswoman sent IndyStar a statement: “Neither Centaur Holdings, LLC, nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates, has an affiliation with the vaping industry. Centaur has neither sole nor partial ownership of any licensees or entity related to the manufacture, distribution or security of vaping products. Our sole focus remains to provide our guests with the best value in gaming, racing, dining and entertainment.”

None of the high-powered lobbyists pushing for the vaping law — Purucker, Mannweiler, Brian Burdick and Kenneth Cragen — listed Hoosier Emerging Technologies as a client or employer. They listed their efforts under Indiana Vapor Company. Burdick did not return messages from IndyStar. Cragen declined to discuss his role.

Their efforts culminated in the vaping law that took effect last year and gave Mulhaupt’s sole discretion over who could seek a license to manufacture e-liquid.

Mulhaupt’s chose to work with only six companies, many with past ties to Centaur or current ties to the liquor industry.

As a result, prices skyrocketed and scores of vapor shops and manufacturers were forced to close or leave the state. The unusual nature of the law also drew attention from the FBI, which opened an investigation to determine if there was any wrongdoing.

The FBI has not commented on the status of the investigation or its targets.

IndyStar reported last month that the vaping law shared a common feature with draft legislation from 2013 that would have legalized medical marijuana. Both included security firm requirements that gave Mulhaupt’s a distinct advantage.

“It’s everything we always had a gut feeling about,” said Amy Lane, whose Indiana Smoke Free Alliance represents many small vapor shops and manufacturers that lost business because of the legislation. “This wasn’t for public health and safety. It was about lining somebody’s pockets. It’s disgusting, really. It’s disgusting that people are allowed to behave this way at the expense of small businesses.”

She said 60 vapor retail locations and 46 manufacturers have closed since the vaping law went into effect last summer. Wholesale prices for e-liquid have shot up 45 percent, she said.

A matter of disclosure

Lawmakers are now in the midst of overhauling that law. Senate Bill 1 would get rid of the security firm requirements and other portions of the law that a federal court found to be an unconstitutional barrier to interstate trade.

The House and Senate passed slightly different versions of the bill and must work out their differences before the 2017 legislative session ends Friday.

But fixing the vaping law is only the beginning of the work lawmakers need to do if they want to restore public faith in the General Assembly, said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a government accountability group.

“We are at a point in time when the public is cynical, and things like this confirms their belief that there is a small group of insiders who inflict their will on the General Assembly and usually with a profit motive behind it,” she said. “This is another example of why we need sweeping reform.”

The secretive nature of the company was enabled in part because of what some open government experts say is a gap in Indiana’s ethics rules. Lobbyists in Indiana do not have to disclose which lawmakers they lobby or any of their communications with those lawmakers. In fact, they are only required to list the general topic of their lobbying, not the specific piece of legislation they are trying to influence.

At least 13 other states require lobbyists to disclose more specific information about their activities, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that advocates for transparency in government.

Lawmakers had an opportunity earlier this year to make interactions between lobbyists and lawmakers more transparent, but took a pass.

Senate Bill 289, authored by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, would have required lobbyists to keep a log of all communication with lawmakers, making their emails, texts and social media correspondence a matter of public record. The bill also would have made it illegal for lawmakers to accept gifts from lobbyists.

The measure never got a hearing.

“If the public needed another reason to have access to their legislator’s e-mails, this would be one to add to the ever growing list,” said Baiel, president the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. “Public policy should be made in the light of day and on the record. For posterity. If we cannot reconstruct how bills are made, how can we trust the outcomes of the legislation?”

About Hoosier Emerging Technologies

Hoosier Emerging Technologies was created Dec. 11, 2012, and registered as a limited liability corporation with the Indiana secretary of state’s office.

Company president: Jim Purucker. He is a longtime casino and alcohol lobbyist. He pushed for Indiana’s vaping law. His clients include the Indiana Vapor Co., Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of Indiana, Indiana Towing and Wrecker Association and the Indiana Motor Truck Association. He also represents New Centaur, the casino and horse-racing business led by Rod Ratcliff.

Purpose: Some investors said company’s goal was to establish a foothold in Indiana’s marijuana market when it became legal.  Others said the company aim was to make money off the vaping industry or develop horse-racing technology.

Among the investors

• Kip Tew, former Indiana Democratic Party Chairman who was President Barack Obama’s campaign chairman in Indiana, and is now a Statehouse lobbyist for Ice Miller. That law firm represents many of Indiana’s largest and most influential companies. Tew said making money off legalized marijuana was HET’s aim. 

• Two other investors, who requested anonymity, also said the company was planning to capitalize on the eventual legalization of marijuana.

• Rex Early, former Indiana Republican Party Chairman who served as President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in Indiana. He said he was not aware of any company effort on marijuana and thought it was focused on the vaping industry.

• Paul Mannweiler, former Republican Indiana House speaker who is now a lobbyist at Bose Public Affairs Group. He also lobbied on the vaping law. Bose’s clients also include some of the state’s largest and most influential corporations. Mannweiler said neither vaping nor marijuana were discussed when he decided to put money into Hoosier Emerging Technologies.

• Mike Phillips, former Democratic House speaker who is now a lobbyist at the Statehouse. His lobbying firm, Phillips & Phillips, represents clients such as tobacco and pharmaceutical industries. He also represents New Centaur, the casino and horse-racing business led by Rod Ratcliff. 

Another player

Rod Ratcliff, Centaur Gaming CEO. Two sources familiar with the company say he was involved with Hoosier Emerging Technologies. That involvement included, at the very least, discussions at the Winner’s Circle about Hoosier Emerging Technologies and possible marijuana-related legislation.

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(in) Legislature Considering Indiana’s First Medicinal Cannabis Laws


Submitted by Marijuana News on Tue, 03/21/2017 – 08:30

This legislative session, a record 11 proposals addressed the use of cannabis. Most of them never got a hearing, but two are still moving through the legislature and could become Indiana’s first medical cannabis laws.

Indiana is one of six states that have not passed any form of medical cannabis legislation, including CBD.

CBD stands for cannabidiol, also known as “hemp oil.” It is a non-psychoactive cannabis, with low tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – so it can’t get people high.

For the past seven years, senators have sought Dr. Trent Jones’ testimony on the topic. He spoke from California last January, via Skype.

“The longer you wait on these children with catastrophic seizures the more damage you do to their ability to develop,” says Jones. “This is the seventh time I’ve personally testified for it, for CBD and industrial hemp in general.”

Jones is a Hoosier native and works now with the National Institute for Cannabis and Endocannabinoid Research or NICER. He strongly advised lawmakers to legalize a form of medical cannabis to treat epilepsy through Senate Bill 15.

This bill has support in the House and the Senate. A related bill defining CBD products as having no more than 0.03 THC also passed the House.

Bobbie Joe Young lobbies for cannabis legislation in Indiana, and is the co-founder of Higher Fellowship. While industrial hemp is legal for research, she says medicinal cannabis bills have never seen this much traction.

“The reason that politicians are concerned is, in our opinion, strictly wording,” says Young. “We’re breaking the stigma and saying hey ‘look at the education, look at the medical background, look at the research.’”

She and fellow lobbyist David Phipps say public opinion is changing and the stigma is fading.

“Bills similar to SB 15 have passed unanimously through the House,” says Phipps, “We expect the same thing to happen and the next obstacle will be the governor’s desk.”

But it may not be smooth sailing, Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he had no plans to expand legal drug use, especially in light of the state’s opioid epidemic.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 still classifies all forms of cannabis as Schedule 1 drugs. A recent study did not definitively prove the benefits of medicinal cannabis.

At the same hearing that took testimony from Dr. Trent Jones in January, Republican Sen. Aaron Freeman says he worries about the grey lines.

“I mean law enforcement has to have clear guidelines as to is this legal or not and I worry how is it they are going to know where it was grown,” says Freeman.

Sen. Karen Tallian has proposed cannabis related legislation for the past seven years and is a co-author on the CBD bill for epilepsy. She’d like to add a provision to the bill, in hopes to pave the way for more medical cannabis legislation.

“A study for the health committee during the summer, to look and see about other conditions that may benefit.” Tallian says.

As the debate continues, many are watching it closely. Bettyjo Bouchey lives in Fishers. She is a mother and a doctor, and says her friend from Colorado offered to buy her some CDB hemp oil after her son was diagnosed with primary generalized epilepsy two years ago.

“I fear I would go to jail for helping my son,” says Bouchey, “I mean can you imagine, going to jail for giving your child something that may help with their seizures?”

She says she’d like to know more about CBD it for her 12-year-old. She worries about him being on so many pharmaceuticals.

“If anything we just want the chance to see if it works. You know, let’s do some clinical trials, lets do some proof of concept, you know I’m a doctor I believe in evidence, I get it.” Bouchey says.

SB 15 would include a registry for approved patients. The proposal will be heard in the House in the coming weeks.

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Ind. Veteran Pushing For Legalization Of Medical Marijuana


By Barbara Brosher
Posted January 13, 2017

The American Legion of Indiana could consider a resolution this weekend that would encourage state lawmakers to develop a medical marijuana program.

The proposal comes from a Kokomo veteran who hopes medical marijuana could help veterans struggling with opioid addiction.

But, similar proposals have failed to gain traction at the statehouse.

Veteran Hopes Medical Marijuana Could Help Treat Physical, Emotional Pain

Veterans gather on a daily basis at the bar or around tables at the American Legion post in Martinsville to catch up with each other. The talk revolves around their families, politics and, lately, a proposal from another veteran to make medical marijuana legal in Indiana.

“People don’t know what kind of pain old men have. You can explain it to them, but nobody knows”

—James Ritter, Veteran

“If marijuana is medically available for older veterans that have a need for pain relief, yes, do it,” says Veteran James Ritter.

Ritter spent two decades with the Indiana National Guard. He says he supports any legislation that could help fellow veterans improve their health.

“[Legislators] need to go to the veteran’s home in Lafayette, they need to go to the nursing homes where the veterans are there that cannot do anything for themselves but just take pills that doctors prescribe,” Ritter says. “And they’re not getting any better. They need to go out and visit these people instead of just hear stories about it.”

The non-profit Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis released an ad throughout the state this month. Veteran Jeff Staker started the initiative to push for a medical marijuana program in Indiana.

He spoke during the legislature’s veteran’s affairs committee this week. Staker says he’s interested in how marijuana could help curb opioid addiction.

“We got veterans dying every 30 minutes of prescription pain overdose,” he says.

According to Veterans Affairs officials, about 60 percent of those returning from deployments in the Middle East suffer from chronic pain. Doctors often prescribe powerful opioid painkillers that can be highly addictive.

A study published earlier this year found when states legalize medical marijuana, the number of painkillers prescribed drops significantly. Staker says he’s hopeful a medical marijuana program could help veterans with other health problems, too.

“As veterans we’re looking at it as a way to treat veterans from things from PTSD to chronic pain,” he says.

Staker drafted a resolution calling on legislators to develop a medical marijuana program and the American Legion of Indiana could vote on the proposal Saturday.

Va committee

Photo: Barbara Brosher

Previous medical marijuana bills proposed at the statehouse failed to gain any traction.

Previous Attempts To Pass Medical Marijuana Legislation Unsuccessful

A small number of legislators are also calling on the state to adopt such a program. Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage,  filed a bill this year – and for the past several years –  to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

She wants the state to develop a program of its own. More than half of the states in the country have medical marijuana programs, including neighboring states Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.

“I setup a Department Of Marijuana Enforcement, we’re going to call it DOME,” Tallian says. “And this department would then put together a more comprehensive, specific program and then bring it back to the legislature.”

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Class-action suit challenges constitutionality of civil forfeiture


Fatima Hussein , IndyStar 10:17 p.m. EST November 27, 2016

 

Criminal defense attorney Jeff Cardella wears his beliefs on his sleeve, in the form of a pair of large, pastel yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” cuff links.

In between explanations of his libertarian principles, the 34-year-old Cardella  said his clients may not always be the most sympathetic individuals, but they deserve their rights, too.

Cardella filed a federal class-action lawsuit this month, on behalf of Leroy Washington, whose vehicle was taken by police in September. Washington was arrested and charged with resisting law enforcement, dealing in marijuana and obstruction of justice.

The suit argues that the Indiana law that allows police to seize property from alleged drug dealers and others, regardless of their guilt or innocence, violates criminal defendants’ constitutional right to due process.

It “allows the executive branch to seize and hold the vehicle of an owner for several months without affording the owner the right to a postseizure preforfeiture hearing to challenge the seizure,” according to the complaint.

It’s an argument that could, if it prevails in court, have a sweeping effect on law enforcement.

Criminal defense attorney Jeff Cardella stands in front

Criminal defense attorney Jeff Cardella stands in front of the Justice Statue at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton / IndyStar)

According to Justice Department data, Indiana State Police seized more than $2.2 million in personal property from Indiana residents in 2014. In Marion County, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department seized roughly $48,022 in personal property that year, according to the data.

The suit, limited specifically to vehicles in IMPD possession, does not seek monetary damages. Rather, Washington wants law enforcement to give back his vehicle, and the vehicles of countless individuals whose property was seized under Indiana’s civil forfeiture laws.

Cardella also seeks a reduction in the period of time law enforcement can hold property without stating a reason for seizing it.

“It’s a matter of protecting the constitutional rights of my clients,” said Cardella, a professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, who is vehemently opposed to “unjust government taking.”

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, Mayor Joe Hogsett and IMPD Police Chief Troy Riggs are named defendants in the complaint.

Curry told IndyStar that there are a variety of reasons why the law, as it exists today, is reasonable and constitutional.

“There are protections built in the law to protect innocent people,” Curry said. “An aggrieved party could ask for an emergency hearing to get their property back.”

However, experts and civil libertarians such as Cardella argue that civil forfeiture laws may be due for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Civil forfeiture around the country

Today, all states allow for forfeiture and there are more than 400 federal forfeiture statutes. Legal opinions written on the matter show an inconsistency as to what is and is not a violation of an individual’s property rights.

On a federal level, writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan stated that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial.

The dissenters in the case were strange bedfellows, ranging from traditionally conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

There is also room for interpretation at the state level.

In Indiana, former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who wrote the Supreme Court ruling in another civil forfeiture case, said criticisms of asset seizure may be legitimate in some places. But instances vary from one jurisdiction to another. “There are places where it’s used more forcefully than most people would think is appropriate,” Shepard said.

Because the process is characterized as “civil forfeiture” rather than “criminal forfeiture,” he said, property can be taken regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused party, which raises concerns.

“The relative ease of effecting such forfeiture and the disposition of the assets have become a matter of public note,” Shepard wrote.

Washington, through Cardella, argues that the length of time that police have to possess individuals’ property unduly burdens property owners.

Under Indiana law, the executive branch can hold a vehicle for up to six months. If the state decides to file a forfeiture claim against the vehicle within the first 180 days, the vehicle is held indefinitely until the case is concluded, which can often be several additional months, according to court documents. ​

“I think there is a widespread misunderstanding (that civil forfeiture) is not a unilateral act,” Curry told IndyStar. He explained that most of individuals whose property is seized are drug dealers and the like.

However, case law throughout the country suggests that Indiana’s laws — when it comes to the length of time that law enforcement can hold onto a vehicle — may be unconstitutional.

In a 2002 U.S. Court of Appeals opinion authored by Sotomayor, the court held that the Constitution demanded a speedy process to determine whether the government was likely to win the forfeiture claim.

In the case, Krimstock v. Kelly, three automobile owners challenged a New York City policy that allowed the city to seize motor vehicles from individuals accused of certain crimes involving motor vehicles and then to hold the vehicles — sometimes for years — in hopes of gaining title in civil forfeiture proceedings.

The U.S. Supreme Court has passed on making a substantive ruling on civil forfeiture matters, specifically pertaining to vehicles.

INDIANAPOLIS STAR

In some cases, police seize cars, homes — with no charges filed

Challenges coming from all sides

And Cardella’s isn’t the only suit challenging Indiana’s statute.

Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian nonprofit based in Arlington, Va., filed a lawsuit in February (Jeana M. Horner, Dennis Jack Horner, et al. v. Terry R. Curry, Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, et al.) in Marion Superior Court charging the IMPD and prosecutors with violating the Indiana Constitution by not forwarding all civil forfeiture proceeds to the state’s common school fund.

Instead, the county is keeping 100 percent of the money in a “policing for profit” scheme, the institute said.

INDIANAPOLIS STAR

Indy civil forfeiture lawsuit will proceed

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department divvy up all the money received from civil forfeitures based on a 30/70 split, according to the lawsuit.

The case has yet to be decided.

Regarding Washington and Cardella’s lawsuit, Gedge said, “There are two fundamental problems which make it a serious assault on property rights: It allows law enforcement to seize property, that’s ripe for abuse. And what makes the process more pernicious, (is that law enforcement) is seizing a direct stake in property.”

Cardella, said while it’s not likely that the case will go to the Supreme Court, “I hope it does.”

Cardella, who lives in a rural area outside of Indianapolis, said he prizes his privacy and freedoms as an American.

Citing the Join, or Die political cartoon of a snake cut into pieces drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, Cardella believes in the collective power of the people to unite against tyranny and unfairness.

He sees current civil forfeiture laws as the government’s way of trampling on citizens’ rights.

“This is the kind of case that made me want to go to law school.”

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Marijuana Missionaries: First Cannabis Church Rolls Into Michigan


There’s no religious dogma in this church, but these marijuana missionaries are intent in on bringing ostracized stoners back into the fold.

By Beth Dalbey (Patch Staff) – September 19, 2016 10:05 pm ET

Marijuana Missionaries: First Cannabis Church Rolls Into Michigan

Congregants in this church aren’t high on Jesus. In fact, the very name of the church sounds like lyrics from a rock and (ahem) roll song or the backdrop for a classic Cheech and Chong movie.

It’s true that First Cannabis Church of Logic and Reason’s sacrament might be a doobie or marijuana-infused brownie instead of the body and blood of Christ, and its dogma is steeped in giving thanks to the cannabis plant for its healing nature and the sense of well-being it gives users instead of Jesus’ sacrifices for sinners.

The church, made up of a congregation of mostly atheists and agnostics, made its debut in Lansing, Michigan, earlier this summer.

So, how can it be a church if its members eschew a higher power — beyond, that is, the feeling of euphoria they get from smoking pot or the satisfaction of using a sustainable crop for fuel and fiber?

“Well, the reality is it sounded better than a cannabis cult,” organizer Jeremy Hall told the Lansing State Journal after the congregation’s inaugural service last June that included time for fellowship and a potluck with “both medicated and non-medicated food.”

First Cannabis Church in Indiana

The First Church of Cannabis traces its roots to Indiana as a political statement in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, backed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate.

Self-anointed Grand Poobah Bill Levin has made all sorts of glib proclamations, including the Deity Dozen, which is sort of like the Ten Commandments— for example, “Do not be a ‘troll’ on the internet, respect others without name calling and being vulgarly aggressive,” and “Treat your body as a temple. Do not poison it with poor quality foods and sodas.” Also, don’t be a jerk, or words to that effect.

There are also marijuana-based churches in Florida, Alabama, Oregon and Arizona. Many of them embrace organized religion to one extent or another, but Hall is more resolute in his iteration.

At the First Cannabis Church of Logic and Reason in Michigan, it’s all cannabis, all the time — whether in its leafy tobacco form, as fiber for clothing, as a biofuel or for shelter, paper and plastics.

It’s a miracle,” Hall told The Detroit News. “It can save humanity. Cannabis is something to be put on a pedestal, to be revered.”

What’s God Got To Do With It?

An ordained minister with the online Universal Life Church and a marijuana caregiver who originally hails from Ypsilanti, Hall moved back to Michigan from Tennessee in part because legal medical marijuana is available for treatment of his wife’s lupus.

He hopes congregants at the Lansing church can change attitudes about pot smokers with service projects around the city, like a recent cleanup at a Lansing park.

From his early youth indoctrinated in the Young Earth Creationist congregation — a fundamentalist church that rejected evolution and forbade the use of radios because it supposedly played the devil’s music — to his new role as the founder of the First Cannabis Church of Logic and Reason, Hall has experienced both ends of the religious spectrum.

Though he rejected many of the tenets of his early teachings and other religions, he told The Detroit News he liked the fellowship aspect of church in general and the way a house of worship can gather in people who live on the margins. So he formed a church, taking God out of the equation.

Still, Hall’s church embodies the WWJD — “What would Jesus do?” — spirit more than you might think, even though it is not rooted in Christianity.

On a flyer seeking participants in a recent park cleanup, Hall acknowledged that pot smokers “have been demonized in the eyes of the public as miscreants and law breakers, ignorant and unmotivated.”

So, just as Jesus reached out to the disenfranchised, the church is a chance for Hall and his wife to reach out to people who have been “using cannabis and feeling ostracized” by their regular places of worship, Michigan Radio reported.

“We’re using our church to elevate the community and to show we aren’t a drain on society or a bunch of unmotivated criminals,” Hall told the Lansing State Journal.

Pot City, Michigan?

Not surprisingly, the church, located in the shadow of four medical marijuana dispensaries, has some detractors.

The Rejuvenating South Lansing citizens’ group, which wants more restrictions on dispensaries, worries the church further mainstreams marijuana use and will draw more users to the city.

“This is just another way they can do whatever they want,” Elaine Womboldt, the group’s founder, told The Detroit News. “We don’t want to be known as the pot city of Michigan.”

Also, at the first service earlier this summer, a lonely protester, Quaker traditionalist Rhonda Fuller, of Lansing, held a sign that warned the only people who benefit from marijuana are profiting financially from it: “It’s about money, not you. It’s misery for everyone else.”

Fuller told The Detroit News it’s unconscionable to call the First Church of Cannabis a church.

“Anyone can call anything a church,” she said. “It has nothing to do with Christianity — but neither does most churches.”

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Another push for medical pot in Indiana not likely to work


Odds against Indiana legislators backing medical marijuana

Posted: Sunday, January 3, 2016 5:00 am | Updated: 5:14 pm, Sun Jan 3, 2016.

By Jeff Parrott South Bend Tribune

Posted on Jan 3, 2016

The husband and father was near death from Crohn’s Disease in 2009….

Over a three-month period, his weight dropped from about 175 pounds to 117 pounds. He had his large intestine, colon and rectum removed, and he was largely confined to his bed or a chair.

He had no appetite and was surviving largely on IV fluid. He was so worried about accidentally jarring the stapled incision in his abdomen that his muscles ached from the constant tension.

Marijuana had just been legalized for medical use that year. At his wife’s suggestion, he tried smoking some, first illegally because he wanted to see whether it helped him before he went through the process of applying for a legal permit.

“It was amazing,” recalled the man, who lives in Michigan, just a few miles from the Indiana line. “Instantaneous. I could feel my shoulders drop and my body relax. In less than 10 minutes, I was feeling the urge in my stomach to eat. I started feeling better. I ate more. Started gaining more weight.”

It’s stories like his that have prompted two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Karen Tallian of Ogden Dunes and Rep. Sue Errington of Muncie, to sponsor medical marijuana bills in the Indiana General Assembly session that starts Monday. Indiana would join 23 other states in legalizing marijuana and become part of a national debate over the medical merits.

The odds of success for the legislators, however, are not great. Bills they introduced in the 2015 session died in committee for lack of a hearing. With Republicans in firm control of both houses, Tallian isn’t overly optimistic 2016 will be any different.

Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, echoes the sentiments of many in his party. He stops short of disputing that marijuana can provide relief for some medical problems, but he thinks that would be overshadowed by a corresponding increase in recreational use and abuse.

"I would listen to the arguments as to its medical use," Zakas said. "I just haven’t heard a convincing argument on that yet. I want to hear the evidence from solid sources that it’s a viable medical tool."

Tallian, a criminal defense attorney who thinks it’s wasteful to jail people for smoking pot when recreational use is now legal in four states, had for the past three years introduced bills to decriminalize recreational marijuana use. It would still be illegal but possessing small amounts would be treated as an infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. Her bills have never received a hearing.

In 2015, Tallian changed tack, authoring a bill to legalize medical marijuana by creating an Indiana Department of Marijuana Enforcement that would regulate it much like pharmaceuticals, in a pilot program for people suffering a specific list of ailments.

Her bill also would have allowed Indiana universities and pharmaceutical companies to conduct research on medicinal use. Errington introduced a companion measure in the House.

In the coming session, Tallian and Errington said they’ll introduce bills for both decriminalization and medical use. Tallian said she would be willing to drop the decriminalization component if it meant finally getting a hearing for medical use.

“We move by inches down there, so I’d take every inch I could get,” she said. “I have a lot of votes over there on the Republican side if I could just get a hearing.”

Last session, her bill was assigned to the Health and Provider Services Committee, where chair Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, declined to give it a hearing. Miller was unavailable for comment.

“Pat Miller kept saying, ‘We don’t have enough proof yet” that marijuana offers medicinal benefits, Tallian said. “That’s because we haven’t had the opportunity to do research.”

Her bill has yet to be assigned a committee for the 2016 session.

‘A buzz or a high’

Asked to identify a supportive Republican, Tallian mentioned Sen. Jim Tomes of Poseyville, a small, rural town outside Evansville. Tomes this year introduced a bill to legalize the growing of hemp, a form of marijuana that lacks THC, the drug that gives marijuana smokers a high.

In addition to a variety of industrial textile uses, hemp can produce cannabis oil, which has a well-documented record of alleviating seizures in children with epilepsy.

Tomes said parents of children with epilepsy have increasingly turned to him for their cause.

“This is extremely different than what Sen. Tallian is trying to do,” said Tomes, who doesn’t support legalizing medical marijuana.

“I understand there are certain applications and I’m not taking that away from anyone,” he added. “But it also has the ability to give people a buzz or a high. That’s a factor I just cannot support.”

The concept has found more traction in other states. Illinois recently launched a Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, allowing 13 licensed dispensaries to open around the state. Sales began in November to about 3,900 licensed patients.

Kentucky last year became one of 18 states that allows use or research of cannabis oil for seizure treatment.

Ohio voters last month overwhelming rejected a ballot initiative to legalize recreational use, but observers have attributed that more to the fact that the right to produce and distribute marijuana would have been concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy producers.

In the coming year, recreational marijuana may be on the ballot in 11 states, including Michigan, according to Ballotpedia, a website that tracks ballots issues nationwide. Another five states might consider medical pot initiatives.

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, said he isn’t ready to commit to supporting medical marijuana, but he hopes it will at least receive a committee hearing in the coming session.

“For me, it’s very important that it be very narrowly tailored so it does address medical issues, it’s administered by the health care community or by a doctor,” Broden said. “I’m certainly open to hearing about it.”

Conducting committee hearings would allow testimony from officials in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, such as law enforcement officials in Michigan.

“If these other states have had positive experiences or at least not had negative experiences … that would be critical for me,” he said.

When asked whether she knew of any doctors who wish they could legally prescribe marijuana, Errington pointed to Dr. Bruce Ippel, a 66-year-old family practice physician near Muncie. Over his 40 years as a doctor, Ippel said, many of his patients have reported using marijuana for relief from ailments such as headaches and migraines, as well as appetite stimulation for people with cancer and chronic intestinal illness from diabetes.

He isn’t sure if medical marijuana will become legal in Indiana in his lifetime. But while admitting he’s cynical, Ippel thinks Indiana lawmakers eventually will legalize marijuana so that they can tax it and grow state revenue. Colorado collected almost $70 million in marijuana taxes last fiscal year, nearly double the $42 million collected from alcohol taxes, according to Time magazine.

Ippel noted that even in Indiana, society has grown more tolerant of pot.

"The landscape has changed," he said. "Twenty years ago, anyone using marijuana was at high risk of being locked up. Indiana law enforcement agencies have largely backed off common users. I think that’s a change in the last six to eight years that’s been a benefit."

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Cops warn of arrests at Church of Cannabis


Tim Evans, Jill Disis and Mark Alesia, mark.alesia@indystar.com 5:57 p.m. EDT June 26, 2015

 

Bill Levin

Police, prosecutors will discuss enforcement plans for July 1 event

 

Levin contends the use of marijuana in the church service is protected by RFRA, which limits government encroachment on religious freedoms.

Curry said he believes the new law is ill-advised and problematic. That said, he also stressed that RFRA is not "a legitimate defense to committing a crime."

Police can’t ignore violations

Hite said police can’t ignore Levin flaunting the law under the guise of religion.

That means everyone in attendance next week is subject to criminal charges, he said, even if they do not partake of the church’s sacrament.

Curry said observers could be charged with visiting a common nuisance. Those who smoke the drug could be charged with possession of marijuana. Both charges are class B misdemeanors, which carry a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Curry and Hite said Friday they were announcing their plans in an effort to dissuade Levin and his followers from going through with wide-spread marijuana use at the service. Hite said his department would have police on the church property, including possibly inside the sanctuary itself.

"I think it’s important to know that we’re not trying to create a police state," Hite said. "I think reasonably intelligent people will stay away, quite frankly. But as with any other events we happen to have in our city, we’re prepared for it."

Curry listed six considerations he said he recently shared with Levin — and wants others who might attend the service to keep in mind.

In addition to making arrests for those who possess or are simply in the presence of marijuana that is being used, Curry said, police will also be looking for impaired drivers, those with open warrants and those who are at the service in violation of a probation order. Curry also cautioned that minors should not be present if marijuana is being used, adding that such a violation has "numerous implications."

Curry and Hite said police and prosecutors are duty bound to uphold Indiana’s drug laws and cannot ignore the event that has been widely promoted in the news and on social media. They also are disturbed that they have to expend valuable manpower on this event, when there are many other more pressing needs for law enforcement resources.

Curry added Levin’s church is a direct result of the state’s RFRA law, and renewed an earlier call for legislators to repeal the law which he sees as unneeded and the result of political posturing.

"We anticipated that (RFRA) could be asserted as a defense to criminal prosecution," he said. "As with any defense, our office will address the argument within the context of the case in which it is presented."

The prosecutor said he has met twice with Levin to discuss alternatives to making mass arrests at the service next week, such as making his point on a smaller scale involving just one or two people challenging the law.

"I understand completely that what (Levin) is doing is using RFRA as a vehicle to essentially advocate for what he’s advocated for all along, and that is the legalization of marijuana," Curry said. "But until he and others convince the legislature otherwise, then it’s a crime."

Curry also dismissed concerns that the attendees of next week’s Church of Cannabis service would be treated differently than others who are cited for marijuana possession – though he added that the city’s advance notice of the event did present a change in how they plan on enforcing the law.

"Individuals are cited for criminal offenses when they are observed, whether it’s at the Indy 500 or rock concerts," Curry said. "What is different here is that we’ve been given notice that this is going to occur. From our perspective, it would be entirely the wrong message that we would not react to that."

Hite said the church is not right for Indianapolis, adding he and his officers have talked to drug dealers who are "appalled" by the planned service next week.

"Those who deal drugs for a living have said to us, ‘Listen. We’re trying to get out of the game. You’re telling us to get out, chief,’" Hite explained. "How can we allow someone to willingly violate the law?"

Keeping the lawyers happy

Levin said he is unfazed by who might show up at the service Wednesday, including law enforcement officials

"I don’t have a problem with that," he said. "You want to come pray? Come pray. You better be on the guest list to get into the building, though, because we’ve already got this thing filled."

The church plans to have a tent to accommodate overflow from the relatively small church building. What Levin described as "ushers" — who sound more like security — will screen people entering the building. The church also will have legal representation on site for the inaugural service.

A woman at the church Friday, wearing a shirt with a peace symbol on it, scoffed at Curry’s suggestion for Levin to scale down whatever might trigger a legal battle.

"Bill doesn’t do anything on a small scale," she said. "I’ve known him for 35 years."

Levin confirmed Curry’s suggestion but characterized it as being asked "to fall on the sword and no one else do it."

"I believe in religious freedom and I will never tell my congregants what not to do," Levin said. "I will warn them of what might happen. If you’re on probation, they might nail you. If you’re there with a kid, they might get CPS on you. … This is civil disobedience in its finest form while we’re celebrating a beautiful birth of a new religion."

Levin appears to be doing as much as he can to protect the church legally. He has non-profit religious status certified by the Internal Revenue Service. He made sure the church building conforms to safety codes. He’s not allowing anyone under 21 into the sanctuary, where marijuana will be smoked at the end of the ceremony. And he is not selling or distributing the drug; its a bring-your-own event.

While Levin said he would prefer that officials leave him and church members alone, he’s not about to back down from a legal fight.

"I’d just as soon not do it. Am I afraid of it? No. Not at all. I’m sorry, I’m right," he said. "I will defend my beliefs as long as it takes and as far as it takes."

Any decision the state makes on religious laws — including whether the First Church of Cannabis is a legitimate religion — "they’re going to have to be very committed to, and that goes across the board," Levin said. "Because what’s good for one religion is good for all."

Legal experts wary

Whether Levin and his new church find protection under RFRA is a complicated and cloudy question, according to legal experts, who said it likely will be up to the state’s Supreme Court to decide.

At a forum on RFRA this week at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, three experts generally agreed Levin was likely to lose in his effort to use the law to protect followers’ marijuana use from prosecution.

Around the country over the last 25 years, most other attempts to use the federal RFRA to avoid drug charges have been unsuccessful — even though that law was enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court failed to uphold the religious freedom of a Native American to use peyote, an illegal drug, in a spiritual ritual.

Douglas A. Berman, a professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, was a little more optimistic.

"If and when you robustly protect religious freedoms, you have to be prepared that there will be people who claim religions that may not be what you had in mind," he explained.

He said most of the other unsuccessful test cases involved defendants who invoked RFRA after being arrested on drug charges.

"It is relatively rare," he said, "a defendant could have done the front-end work to show the drug use came after a religious commitment rather than you were using drugs and then you conveniently got a religious commitment on the back end."

Berman said the key to Levin having a chance to prevail in court involved "doing the things — and it sounds like he already is starting to — that makes this look much more like religiosity than an excuse" for drug use. Ministry actions, such as assisting families with children who have medical conditions and need marijuana to address those health problems, would help prove it is a religion, he said.

To win in court on a RFRA claim, Levin would need to overcome two hurdles, said Donald L Beschle, professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

First, he would need to convince the court that what they are doing is actually motivated by a religious belief.

But even if Levin can establish his church is entitled to some protections under RFRA, Beschle said, the state can still attempt to justify arresting church members for using marijuana. They key would be the state establishing it has a compelling public safety interest — and that the denial of a RFRA exemption is necessary to protect that interest.

The court could duck the religious question altogether, he said, and focus solely on the compelling interest argument.

"In a close case, the court may say for the sake of argument, ‘we will accept this as a religion,’ then move onto the next test (compelling interest)," he said.

But, he acknowledged, Levin is facing an uphill battle.

"I would not give it much of a chance of succeeding on a constitutional RFRA claim," he said. "I don’t think the court will get out ahead of the legislature on deciding there is no longer a compelling interest (for the state to prohibit marijuana use)."

Call Tim Evans at (317) 444-6204 and follow him on Twitter: @starwatchtim

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400-plus People Running for U.S. President


 

usmjpIN

 

 

 

Friday, June 26, 2015 :: Staff infoZine

By Quentin Misiag – Thirteen Republicans. Four Democrats.

Washington, DC – infoZine – Scripps Howard Foundation Wire – A growing list of contenders have tossed their hats in the political ring for the 2016 race to the White House.
But the official tally spans longer than the 17 most talked-about political brands of this cycle.

Like over 400 candidates longer.

As of Thursday, 419 Americans seeking the presidency had filed a Form 2 statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. In the last week alone, 18 new candidates have joined the lineup.

 

Jill Stein, a 2016 Green Party presidential candidate, discusses her “Power to the People Plan” campaign platform during a press conference Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington. SFHWire photo by Quentin Misiag

Thomas Keister, a blogger and author from Clarksville, Ind., is lighting up his long-shot White House bid on two decidedly different levels: promoting marijuana bong rips and trolling New York business magnate Donald Trump on Twitter.

Over 1,000 miles away, Silvia Stagg of Miami is mounting her campaign on the niche topic of life-extension. Stagg favors expanded research and medicinal techniques in hospitals that would slow or reverse the human aging process.

Keister and Stagg represent a narrow sliver of afterthought politicians who are choosing to go head-to-head against the 17 mainstream choices thus far: Democrats Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, as well as Republicans Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.

Most filed as independents, while many are Republicans or Democrats.

Others are far more tongue in cheek.

William Richardson of Las Vegas registered with the FEC under the Helluva Party.

Under the National Born Citizen Party, there are Christopher Strunk and Harold Van Allen, both of New York State.

There’s no deadline to file as a candidate with the FEC, but states have explicit filing deadlines so they can prepare ballots.

Politicians officially transition from presumptive to declared candidate when they send in FEC forms.

“You can file at any time, but once you raise or spend $5,000, you’re required to file,” Christian Hilland, an FEC spokesman, said.
The Constitution says presidents must be at least 35 years old when they take office and be natural born U.S. citizens.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia allow presidential write-in candidates. Hawaii, Nevada, South Dakota, South Carolina and Oklahoma do not.
By sheer number, these underdog candidates have 2016’s most popular pols surrounded.

On the other hand, most lack the deep-pocket allies who can reel in big dollars, according to a review of FEC records.
Take Keister, 39, the founder of DasUberBlog!
“I have not raised a single dollar since declaring on Jan. 1 that I was getting into this,” said Keister, the lone candidate running in the American Marijuana Party.
Keister is one distant contender with a noticeable social media presence. He has more Twitter followers than Chaffee, the former Rhode Island senator and governor who launched his bid June 3.
Asked about which of the leading pols he and his campaign platform could beat, Keister fired off: “Most of them.”
Several, including Keister, said they plan to skip Iowa and New Hampshire, a pair of the early presidential picking states seen as crucial to locking up early voter momentum.
“I have not raised a single dollar since declaring on Jan. 1 that I was getting into this,” Keister said.
Keister’s launch came largely from what he called a prime example of government gridlock: Construction of the new Ohio River Bridges Project in greater Louisville, Ky., that was the culmination of 50 years of legal wrangling.

And if it seems that interest in running for title of America’s leading political leader has surged in recent years, that’s because it has.
The number of candidates has already surpassed the 2012 election list, when 417 people filed during the two-year presidential reporting process.
In 2004, 224 people filed as a presidential candidates. Four years later, that number grew to 367, an increase of more than 60 percent.
Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of public communication and history at American University, attributes the climb over the last four election cycles to the ease of information access spurred largely by the growth in mobile email and the “sharing society.”

“This is the sort of the media age we’re living in where everybody has a chance to tell their story,” said Steinhorn, whose expertise includes the presidency, strategic communication and the media. “Does it mean it they have a prayer to win? No, not at all.”

Although they are dark horse choices, some of these lesser-known candidates have found some success in past political pursuits.
Vermin Supreme of New Hampshire, placed third in the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2012 with 833 votes. Supreme, who is known for wearing a boot as a hat and carrying a large toothbrush, hinged his campaign on zombie apocalypse awareness and time travel research.

“I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not discounting it either,” Stein said.

Take Jill Stein, a darling of the Green Party. On Tuesday she launched her 2016 bid in an attempt to rekindle the trail she tread four years ago.

“I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not discounting it either,” Stein, a physician, said of her pursuit, dubbed the “Power to the People Plan.” She announced in an address to reporters at the National Press Club.
Stein’s newest platform is based mainly on the Green Party New Deal, an ambitious road map for domestic energy independence. It would provide millions of jobs by transitioning to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030, she said.

And then there’s Stagg, who said political alliances with high-level Republicans are the necessary backbone for gaining real political traction.
Stagg said she has spent years courting Rubio, Paul and Fiorina at conservative meet-ups, including the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
But now, she says she’s ready to take them on in her own attempt to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I have Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who will never institute socioeconomic programs,” Stagg, a backer of raising the U.S. minimum wage equal to an annual salary of $100,000, said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Hi how are you, Hillary?’ and before you know it, they’ve got your cash in their hand.”

Should her bid take hold, Stagg said she would make the American dollar the worldwide currency, enact a flat federal income tax of 10 percent and work to eliminate poverty in the U.S.
While many long-shot choices have kept to establishing their brands on social media exclusively, some, including Arthur Herbert Brooks Jr., have created websites to help foster a stronger following.
His site has all the basics of a typical online presidential presence. A tagline, “Everyday People for America,” is clearly defined, and donation tabs and an official campaign announcement video dot the page.
However the website features stock images and incomplete details, including broken links.

In his June 8 filing to the FEC, Paul DeLong of Williamsport, Pa., outlined his former job as a grassroots team leader. He claimed he is a veteran campaign operative for the Bush political family.
In a letter to FEC officials, DeLong said: “I feel that I am more than capable of running my own campaign at this time once I announce myself to some Republican Committees. I am hoping that one of them may pick me up.”

In the face of disappointing support, at least one politician has decided to pull out of the pursuit.

Brian Cole, a Pennsylvania Republican who rolled out his 2016 presidential plan five years ago, recently disbanded the endeavor.
Cole said he will now direct his attention to becoming a U.S. ambassador to Iceland, Chile, Spain, Norway or Madagascar.

But with party names such as American Marijuana Party and Democratic-Farm-Labor, these far less known candidates say they’ve got some political bite to them and aren’t backing down.
At least, not yet.

“The only problem I have is getting myself a vice president,” Stagg said.

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IRS Approves First Church Of Cannabis. What’s Next For Marijuana?


Welcome to the First Church of Cannabis Inc., approved by Indiana’s Secretary of State under its controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Even bigger that state law approval, the church has even been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. Tea Party conservatives evidently had a lot more trouble with their tax exemption applications. The stated intent of the upstart church is “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

Bill Levin is the self-described “Minister of Love and Grand Poobah” of the Church. The first church service is set for July 1, 2015. It is no coincidence that July 1 is the day the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect. The church has a Facebook page with clever notes like “The Deity Dozen,” “Don’t be an asshole” and “Do not be a ‘troll’ on the Internet.”

First Church of Cannabis

The Indianapolis Star says First Church of Cannabis could test the new religious freedom law. And many are probably wondering if the Church of Cannabis a real church. The State of Indiana and the IRS think so. For others, it may depend on how you define a church and how well this fits the pattern. There are some strange court cases that have looked at the question. For example, U.S. v. Myers, examined five factors to determine whether a “Church of Marijuana” was authentically religious: ultimate ideas, metaphysical beliefs, a moral system, comprehensiveness of beliefs, and the ‘accoutrements of religion,’ such as important writings, a priesthood, etc.

The Church says that “Cannabis, the ‘healing plant,’ is our sacrament.” Its founder plans to grow hemp. though the church will not buy or sell marijuana. But smoking in church will evidently be permitted. “If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them,” Levin said. “This is a church to show a proper way of life, a loving way to live life. We are called ‘cannataerians.’”

There are many tax advantages of church status and an IRS determination letter. Even compared to other tax-exempt organizations, church status is the crème de la crème. Churches reap a vast array of tax advantages. They even include special rules limiting IRS authority to audit a church. A “church” is not specifically defined in the tax code, but the IRS lays out buzzwords in its tax guide for churches and religious organizations, including these characteristics:

  1. Distinct legal existence;
  2. Recognized creed and form of worship;
  3. Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government;
  4. Formal code of doctrine and discipline;
  5. Distinct religious history;
  6. Membership not associated with any other church or denomination;
  7. Organization of ordained ministers;
  8. Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed study;
  9. Literature of its own;
  10. Established places of worship;
  11. Regular congregations;
  12. Regular religious services;
  13. Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and
  14. Schools for preparing its members.

The IRS considers all facts and circumstances in assessing whether an organization qualifies. But unlike other exempt organizations, a church need not actually apply for tax exemption. Most churches do, but it is technically not required. The Nonprofit Risk Management Center reports that over one hundred 501(c)(3) organizations lose their tax-exempt status each year. The reasons vary, but the losses of tax-exempt status do suggest that the mere fact that the First Church of Cannabis obtained a tax exemption does not necessarily mean it will keep it forever.

For alerts to future tax articles, follow me on Forbes. You can reach me at Wood@WoodLLP.com. This discussion is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.

CONTINUE READING….

Whoops: Indiana’s anti-gay ‘religious freedom’ act opens the door for the First Church of Cannabis


Tom Boggioni

Tom Boggioni
29 Mar 2015 at 20:55 ET

Rastafarian businessman (Shutterstock)

Rastafarian businessman (Shutterstock)

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In a classic case of “unintended consequences,” the recently signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana may have opened the door for the establishment of the First Church of Cannabis in the Hoosier State.

While Governor Mike Pence (R) was holding a signing ceremony for the bill allowing businesses and individuals to deny services to gays on religious grounds or values, paperwork for the First Church of Cannabis Inc. was being filed with the Secretary of State’s office, reports RTV6.

Church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that the church’s registration has been approved, writing, “Status: Approved by Secretary of State of Indiana – “Congratulations your registration has been approved!” Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.”

Levin is currently seeking $4.20 donations towards his non-profit church.

According to Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, Indiana legislators, in their haste to protect the religious values and practices of their constituents, may have unwittingly put the state in an awkward position with those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.

Shabazz pointed out that it is still illegal to smoke pot in Indiana, but wrote, “I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”

Noting that RFRA supporters say the bill “only spells out a test as to whether a government mandate would unduly burden a person’s faith and the government has to articulate a compelling interest for that rule and how it would be carried out in the least restrictive manner,” Shabazz contends the law may tie the state’s hands.

“So, with that said, what ‘compelling interest’ would the state of Indiana have to prohibit me from using marijuana as part of my religious practice?” he asked. ” I would argue marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and wine used in religious ceremonies. Marijuana isn’t any more ‘addictive’ than alcohol and wine is used in some religious ceremonies. And marijuana isn’t any more of a ‘gateway’ drug than the wine used in a religious ceremony will make you go out and buy hard liquor. (At least not on Sunday.)”

Shabazz concluded, “I want a front row seat at the trial that we all know is going to happen when all this goes down.”

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