About the Founder of The First Church of Cannabis

“If Cannabis helps us communicate with ourselves, our friends and higher deities, there’s no reason we shouldn’t celebrate life’s great adventure together with cannabis.” – Bill Levin

William Jay Levin was born in 1955 in Chicago and adopted by Robert and Marcia Levin. Robert Levin, a World War II veteran who died in 1987, had a marketing degree from Indiana University and made a good living at the family-run toy wholesaler Kipp Brothers in Indy. He served on the boards of the Indianapolis Zoo and Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. He also was a member of the Downtown Kiwanis Club and Broadmoor Country Club.

Bill Levin was raised in a Jewish home, managed punk bands, ran for political office, launched numerous businesses, traveled the world. He is the biological father of two, grandfather of one — and a counterculture icon in a city hardly known for that scene.

Marcia Levin, who died in 2005, graduated from Shortridge High School and attended IU for two years, according to her obituary. She later finished her degree at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and worked 20 years for the United Way, and spent her retirement years volunteering in the community.

As a boy, Bill Levin worked at the Kipp Brothers warehouse, where he was surrounded by toys and carnival supplies such as rubber chickens and paddle balls. And like THC, marketing is in his blood.

“I can look at something and have it completely marketed before the person finishes a sentence,” he said in a 1995 interview with The Star. “I’ll know who to market it to, how to market it, how to start a buzz and even the cost and financial breakdown. It’s just one of those stupid things that has been embedded in my head.”

Bill worked with punk bands, including the Zero Boys, a landmark Indianapolis-based band that garnered international attention. But he also ran into issues with the law. He said he was arrested in the 1980s for having a small grow chamber for pot, and the case was dismissed. He also said he had public intoxication arrests during his drinking days. Bill said he has not had alcohol since 1988. 

Ahead of his time

In person, Levin is engaging and charismatic, and knowledgeable about the history of cannabis and the future of pop culture.

“He was about 15 years ahead of his time,” said long-time acquaintance Barillo. “He’s a very forward thinker. He’s very into where pop culture is going to be.”

Among Levin’s self-employment ventures was Indy Online, an attempt to create a local version of America Online. He also made an early dive into virtual reality, but was unable to capitalize on it.

In the late 1990s, Levin started working with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a group that promotes reform of marijuana laws. But personal problems — Levin explained “my life was falling apart a little bit” — prompted him to flee to Thailand for a change of pace.

When he returned, he started his own pro-marijuana organization, ReLegalize Indiana. He ran in two political races as a Libertarian, with marijuana legalization a keystone of his platform. In 2011, he received more than 10,000 votes for an at-large seat on the City-County Council. Last year, he ran for state representative, losing to the incumbent Democrat, 6,520 to 788.

He said he got into politics because he watched “Superman” as a child, “and truth, justice and the American way is embedded into my brain. I believe in those words. I really do.”

Levin expressed support for the military in a 2009 Facebook post, writing, “Go HUG a VET today and tell them THANK YOU for their service to our wonderful country. How come we do not have a Police and Fire mans (sic) Day? I think they deserve THANKS TOO!”

Levin also had warm feelings for the IRS after filing for non-profit status for the First Church of Cannabis. It took a mere 27 days to get approval.

“All I have to say is, God works in mysterious ways, brother,” Levin said.

When Mike Pence passed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allowed businesses to reject gays. Bill took this as an opportunity to establish The First Church of Cannabis on the basis of “Cannatarian” religion where love is the most important and including the sacrament, cannabis. 

Mellowing with age

“I don’t really want to be rich,” he said. “I need three squares a day. I need about four or five cigars. I need a few smiles on my friends’ faces. And that’s about it.”

Levin said he will not take “anything above poverty wages” as Grand Poobah of the church. But the marketing man absolutely has his sights set on merchandise sales — T-shirts, not weed — and chartering the church in other cities and countries.

“I want to see the church grow and expand,” Levin said. “I see it as a huge growth of a loving religion. I’m not looking at it as a cash cow. I’m looking at it as helping others to develop freedom of religion.”.

“His ‘Deity Dozen’ was more or less the way he raised me,” she said. “You don’t be an a——, finish your fights, don’t ever hit somebody first, stand up for what you believe in. He was always a very, very supportive father. He had his ups and downs just like every other parent. But he raised me pretty well, I like to think.”

Levin’s oldest daughter believes her father is sincere in his push to create a new religion that includes pot. “People think, ‘Oh, it’s (just) drugs’ … and it really isn’t,” she said. “It really isn’t to him.”

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