Cannabis in America
Spiritual High: A Cannabis Church Opened Last Week in Denver
From the outside, it looks like any other nondescript, brick-built church. But its stained glass panels, instead of biblical images, are adorned with a colorful array of planets–with wide, cartoonish grins–and stars. Welcome to Denver’s International Church of Cannabis, which had its grand opening last Thursday, on the unofficial weed holiday known as “4/20.” In a city where smoking marijuana in public is illegal, despite Colorado’s legalization of the drug in 2012, the church offers a holy refuge to those looking for a more spiritual kind of high.
Church members call themselves “Elevationists.” They refer to cannabis as “the sacred flower.” The church’s interior looks like a Salvador Dali painting come to life: technicolor, kaleidoscopic patterns blanket the ceiling; two surreal figures sit in pools of paint, a tiny, blue horse is visible in the background. There is hardly a speck of white in the entire sanctuary–courtesy of the colorful vision of artists Kenny Scharf and Okuda San Miguel.
Coming back at you from Denver’s International Church of Cannabis 🎤🌿 pic.twitter.com/pe7Xjqtlv5
— Full Disclosure 🎙 (@FullDRadio) April 21, 2017
The church’s mission, according to its website, is:
To offer a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacred plant. Our lifestance is that an individual’s spiritual journey, and search for meaning, is one of self-discovery that can be accelerated with ritual cannabis use. Elevationists claim no divine authority, nor authoritarian structure, therefore, those of all religious and cultural background are welcome to visit our chapel and take part in our celebrations.
Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, setting off a string of state referendums–from Oregon to California–on legalization, and shifting the nationwide discourse on the long-pilloried plant. Eight states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana; 28 have legalized it for medical purposes. But while it is legal to possess limited amounts of cannabis across Colorado, which is also dotted with licensed dispensaries, local jurisdictions draft their own rules regarding public use.
In response, a number of so-called “cannabis clubs” (essentially bars or cafes where lighting up is legal) have cropped up. Also on 4/20, the country’s first cannabis drive-thru opened in Parachute, Colorado. And Denver’s cannabis church is not the country’s first establishment to mix the high with the holy. The First Church of Cannabis, in Indianapolis, opened in the summer of 2015.
Funded by Elevation Ministries, a religious nonprofit, the International Church of Cannabis was not unequivocally embraced. On Thursday, the church’s opening day, Dan Pabon, a Democratic state representative, proposed an amendment to ban cannabis consumption in churches. Pabon said the church “offends both religious beliefs everywhere, as well as the voters’ intent on allowing legalization of marijuana in Colorado.”
— NYT National News (@NYTNational) April 24, 2017
The amendment was never officially introduced; many fellow legislators viewed it as an attempt to repress religious freedom. To Steve Berke, the church’s media relations director, the church was founded to “do something different, something unique.” In an interview with the New York Times, Berke said: “We’re building a community of volunteers, and the common thread is that they use cannabis to positively influence their lives, and they use cannabis for spiritual purposes.”