In the catholic religion the common ritual at the end of mass is to receive sacrament. The priest breaks the bread and blesses the wine and it is then distributed to the patrons of the church. What if instead of a bitter dry cracker, and some watered down wine, you were passed a joint?
Thats just what some religious groups are claiming as their sacrament in their religious practices. Recently we have seen a trend in some religious groups claiming cannibis as their sacrament. Stating that using the plants can have spiritual and divine properties that bring them closer to a higher power.
Earlier this year a documentary called, Breaking the Habit was released, depicting a group of nuns that live on farmland in Manchester England who cultivate and distribute cannabis plant product.
In California a group called the Association of Sacramental Ministries unifies several different religious organizations in the state of California that claim cannabis as their chosen sacrament. One self proclaimed church in La Puente, CA was shut down and raided earlier this year in May by the Los Angeles Sherifs department, causing a drawn out legal battle on the issue.
While these groups may seem progressive, there are some ethical questions that are raised by claiming a rapidly profitable industry like cannabis as a sacrament in your religious practices.
One of the obvious benefits are the tax breaks. It is advised by the IRS that groups who claim to be churches and meet the requirements of section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered to be tax exempt.
Assuming that the groups mentioned above are taking advantage of these benefits, there could be some significant impact on an individual or a shareholders bank account.
Now this is where the ethical conflict comes into question. The IRS states that the organization must not operate with the intent of private interest. They elaborate that there is no part of an organizations 501(c)(3) section that should benefit an individual or its shareholders.
This could mean that religion groups who distribute cannabis products for profit and are not document their earnings could face some significant legal issues. This profit is defined by the IRS as an excess benefit transition and if they are found to be making a profit their organization could be subject to an excise tax. Which will disqualify these groups from receiving anymore tax breaks, and require the organization to pay back the money that has be saved.