The International Church of Cannabis will open its doors in Denver on April 20, a day marijuana enthusiasts everywhere have memorialized as a sort of “high” holy day.
The church is not your average house of worship, for obvious reasons. But the religion it preaches, members say, is no joke.
Members of the church are known as Elevationists. Their faith holds that “an individual’s spiritual journey, and search for meaning, is one of self-discovery that can be accelerated and deepened with ritual cannabis use,” according to the church’s website.
“We do not believe in authoritarian structures, nor do we profess the arrogance of knowing God’s mind,” Elevationist Lee Molloy told The Huffington Post. “There are no Grand Poobah’s or High Priests ― well, we are all ‘high’ priests ― rather, we are all on our own quest to be the best self we can be, and to give back to the community with our talents and labor.”
Church members refer to cannabis as “the sacred flower,” which Molloy described as “a gift from the Universal Creative Force.”
Ritual use of cannabis has a long, well-documented history dating back over 3,000 years, according to Mark S. Ferrara, an associate professor of English at the State University of New York and author of Sacred Bliss: A Spiritual History of Cannabis.
“In low dosages, such as those achieved by inhalation and through tinctures, cannabis produces a mild euphoric effect employed by shamans and herbal healers across time and culture,” Ferrara writes.
One of the earliest recorded mentions of cannabis comes from The Vedas, a set of ancient Hindu texts. To this day, many people in India enjoy a drink called bhang, made from the leaves of the female cannabis plant. Adherents of Rastafari, an Africa-centred religion that formed in Jamaica in the 1930s, also use marijuana to aid in meditation and community bonding.
As Molloy puts it: “When we ritually take cannabis our mind is elevated and we become a better version of self.”
Marijuana is legal in Colorado, with some caveats. Residents cannot smoke or consume the plant in public ― including at “social clubs” ― which has posed some challenges for the church’s organizers.
“We are being forced to jump hoops by the City,” said Molloy in an email to HuffPost. For now, all programming and ritual cannabis use will be by invitation only. Programming will include guest speakers, comedians, artists, musicians and film screenings. Visitors can come to the church between 12:00 p.m. to 2 p.m. daily to see the space, but no burning will be allowed in the building during those hours, Molloy said.
When we ritually take cannabis our mind is elevated and we become a better version of self."
Other cannabis churches in the country have faced similar roadblocks in recent years. Possession of marijuana is illegal in Indiana ― the home of the First Church of Cannabis. The act of “visiting a place where marijuana is used” is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Indiana’s First Church of Cannabis, a religion that also embraces marijuana as a holy sacrament, came into being under the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That church sued the state and the city of Indianapolis in 2015, claiming the laws infringed on its religious beliefs.
The International Church of Cannabis, which is not affiliated to the Indiana church, will comply with state regulations by enforcing a strict, invitation-only policy for events where cannabis will be used, Molloy said. The church also will not sell marijuana or accessories.
The congregation is currently raising money to fund repairs on the building, which itself has a long history. The structure, located in Denver’s Washington Park neighborhood, is 113 years old and was most recently inhabited by a Lutheran congregation. Spanish muralist Okuda San Miguel has since painted the vaulted ceilings with colorful, geometric designs.
The campaign has raised over $30,000 so far. To see what the church looks like on the inside, watch the church’s IndieGoGo campaign video:
Some local residents have expressed concerns about the church, but members insist their intentions are good.
“This is not just a bunch of lazy stoners getting together to get high,” Steve Burke, the church’s landlord and one its founding members, told the local KUSA station. “We really want to positively impact Washington Park West neighborhood. We want to do great things for the community.”
Molloy echoed these sentiments, saying the church will represent the best of what houses of worship have to offer ― “safety and sanctuary.”
“Our church is a community,” he said. “Once we open we will continue to push for volunteering efforts in the community, and we will be offering many of the similar services you may find in any other traditional church.”