By Meg Hartley
Published on September 4, 2019· Last updated July 28, 2020
Bill Levin is what some might call a character. Instead of the customary “Hello?” when answering the phone, Levin exclaims, “Hi, I love you, Bill Levin here!”
During a phone interview with Leafly, he expanded on his unique greeting: The first time, they seem to think they’ve encountered a lunatic; the second time, they warm up, at least giving a normal greeting in return; it’s a little warmer by the third; and by the fourth time, almost everyone says it back.
Saying “I love you” has the power to connect people in a world that so badly needs it. This love-driven view of change is what motivated him to start Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis, where he is the self-titled “Grand Poobah.”
The church has 50K followers on Facebook, including 1,000+ folks who attend Wednesday services both in-person and worldwide via streaming. These “Cannaterians” operate under a set of rules titled “The Deity Dozen.”
Among other things, the list decrees that Cannaterians use cannabis as a means to heal and develop community, to help others come to their defense, and to quietly contemplate life. It’s pretty darn hard to argue with.
From Grand Poobah to Governor Candidate
Levin is currently running for governor of Indiana. His values carry over to his political ambitions, which started long before his current campaign. His first political run was as a Indianan teen—an acquaintance running for Campus Council President was violating the first of four words of the Deity Dozen: “Don’t be an asshole.” So Levin ran against him.
His campaign was a smash success, though he may have had a little help from mind-altering substances. Not long before the election, he put LSD in a coffee pot at a school event, leading many students to ditch in favor of tripping balls at a movie theater, watching the 1971 hit Omega Man. Though he got away with these hijinks, his early political career was cut short when he got his girlfriend pregnant and they were kicked out of school.
After several decades of managing punk bands and being a small business owner, his political ambitions returned in 2011. He ran for City Council, reporting that he earned about 11% of the vote, which is considerably better than how other Libertarians usually fare (less than 1%).
He gave politics another shot with a run for Indiana State Representative in 2014, earning 10.8% of votes. Now, he’s going big, aiming to take down the incumbent Governor, Eric Holcomb, who was Lieutenant Governor under Mike Pence, the current Vice President.
A Race Likely to Be Canna-Centric
Indiana is a completely cannabis-illegal state. But an October 2018 telephone poll of 604 randomly selected Indiana adults found that 39% favor allowing cannabis to be used for any purpose, and 42% prefer just medical use, totalling a whopping 81% of Hoosiers for legalization in some capacity.
Since Levin is running as a Libertarian, he’ll primarily be competing for votes with whomever the Democratic candidate will be. The favorite to win is Woody Meyers, a former Indiana health commissioner and millionaire venture capitalist who is for decriminalization and medical use but not recreational use.
Levin’s other two opponents are also pro-cannabis: Karlee Macer for medical use, and Eddie Melton for full legalization.
This race looks like it’s going to be featuring cannabis.
Other Indiana officials are also in line with cannabis. Republican House Representative Jim Lucas said that during a trip to Colorado, he tried as much cannabis as he could to see if it was dangerous, coming to the mighty conclusion: “It was the best night of sleep I’ve ever had.”
Eric Holcomb, the incumbent, is less excited and quoted as saying, “I’ve asked the federal government to enforce the law as it is, and I’ve let them know that we’re a law-and-order state.”
Bill Levin, of course, plans to legalize cannabis. He’s been watching the states around him—Illinois and Michigan are newly recreational, and Ohio is newly medical—noting the ways he’d approach legalization differently, like keeping prices reasonable and ensuring that organized crime is kept out. And he emphasizes it’s crucial residents are legally able to grow their own bud.
Levin is also passionate about caring for homeless residents and intends to use the Governor’s Mansion for a homeless resource center and shelter. He also plans to focus on education needs, with an emphasis on teaching practical modern skills like how to make digital apps.
He also wants to focus on using physical expression, like yoga, instead of practices like study hall and detention, which only waste time and increase frustration. Some schools are already successfully using mindful approaches instead of detention. He’s planning to meet with a large group of teachers next month, for consultation and brainstorming.
These ambitions might sound like pie in the sky, but they’re actually pretty grounded. If politicians truly care about expanding the middle class—the one thing most of them claim to agree on—their lifestyles ought to reflect that, at least to some extent. One man living in 10,500 square feet of house is the polar opposite, isn’t it?
Plus, times are also changing: 10 years ago, legalizing cannabis felt like a fantasy, but now it’s considered to be just a matter of when. And only five years ago, no one thought a democratic socialist could be taken seriously, but now ol’ Bernie’s got a real shot at the presidential nomination. Third-party runners like Bill Levin, game-changers like Bernie Sanders, and oddball visionaries like Marianne Williamson represent schools of thought in need of representation.
Levin’s First Church of Cannabis was the unintended consequence of the 2015 Indiana religious freedom law, which was created after a bakery refused to serve a gay couple. In this same vein, politicians like Bill Levin, and the changes they bring with them, are the result of ideological opposition, which has gotten mighty loud.
With the mind-opening effects of cannabis, hopefully its legalization will bring some less conventional, but more functional, approaches to our politics.
And one last thing, before you go: I love you.