A New Kind of Church
Spiritual seekers for thousands of years have been trying to ‘find themselves’ and the deeper meaning in life. The new International Church of Cannabis located in Denver, Colorado aims to facilitate this desire with a new type of church. As an official non-profit religious group, they define their spirituality more loosely but generally think that spirituality and cannabis go hand in hand. Steve Berke, the media relations director and a founding member of the church says, "An individual’s spiritual journey and search for meaning is one of self discovery that can be heightened and deepened through ritual cannabis use." Some may agree with this statement and actually it is not unlike what some of the ancient gurus from India conveyed to their followers as well.
The International Church of Cannabis opened with celebration this past April 20th, aka 4/20, with a special set of services to commemorate what is now known as the global unofficial cannabis holiday. Members of the church, who call themselves Elevationists, believe that cannabis helps in the process of self discovery, reflection and overall functions as a positive influence. According to church member Lee Molloy, who was interviewed by Merry Jane, “cannabis is a sacrament, one that we use to elevate our lives and achieve the best versions of ourselves that we can be.”
Inside the new cannabis church.
The Denver church occupies a building that has been on the streets of Denver for 113 years and the historic church has gotten a recent makeover in the form of a beautiful multi-color mural that was designed by artist Okuda San Miguel. It will also be “the first large venue in the world, which is also a church, where adults can legally consume cannabis in a social environment.” That said, the idea of the church, however, makes some people in the cannabis friendly state slightly concerned.
Upon learning of the new church, Dan Pabon, a Democrat in the state’s House of Representatives, tried to introduce a ban on cannabis consumption within churches. However, his efforts were blocked. In a recent New York Times article Steve Berke stated that he saw Dan Pabon’s attempts "as a clear example of religious persecution." He added, “And for those who accuse us of creating a church as an excuse to smoke weed, we’re in Denver,” Mr. Berke said. “We can smoke anywhere. I think he should be embarrassed.” We are a nation built upon a foundation of religious tolerance, or so history teaches us.
The outside of the new cannabis church.
Though Denver is fairly accepting of cannabis dispensaries and more private consumption, there are some concerns from neighbors that it may change the atmosphere of the neighborhood. The movement of the cannabis church into the neighborhood, however, has allowed for the historic church to be maintained, though it may be in a slightly different capacity. There are also concerns by city officials that the church is an attempt to circumvent the laws in place that do not allow consumption of cannabis in public spaces, but the church members insist that they are not a social club and instead they are a legitimate religious organization.
Playing by the Book
Attorney Christian Sederberg, has expressed that the church is completely in the purview of the law by stating, “This church is a legitimate effort to create a community for people that don’t find that in traditional religion, and it intends to follow all laws…Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association — those constitutional protections apply. But the definition of ‘open and public consumption’ was never defined in Colorado state statute. The whole concept remains to be decided at the local level and we believe there’s space for this church to operate within those evolving statues.”
A spiritual sadhu in India smoking ritual cannabis.
Elevation of the Self
The church itself has no specific theology or structure, but instead focuses on individualism and the selecting a style of worship that elevates people into the best version of themselves. The space is reminiscent of Denver’s Sacred Smoke Sanctuary, which is a 4,000 square foot space in downtown Denver that serves as a studio, rehearsal space, church, theater, and residence. The landlord of the property has allowed for events to be hosted with cannabis in the building and it has become a space of combining cannabis with spiritual and individual enlightenment, much like the new church.
Cannabis has long found a place in different religions across the world because of its ability to allow people to access feelings, thoughts, and ideas that may not be accessible without its assistance. Cannabis also provides people with the ability to focus on stimuli in front of them and rid their mind of stresses, allowing them to embrace the moment more fully. The Church of Cannabis will provide an interesting look into the spiritual connections that many people find with cannabis. Only time will tell, however, how the church integrates into its community, and whether it spreads across the city, state, and nation.