On April 20, a 113-year-old church building in Denver, Colorado, will be officially repurposed as the home of the International Church of Cannabis and headquarters of Elevation Ministries, a religious nonprofit that uses cannabis as a sacrament. Members of the church are called “Elevationists.”
“The Elevationists’ goal is creating the best version of themselves,” says founding member Steve Berke. “We believe cannabis accelerates and deepens that process.”
According to the Church’s website, their “mission is to offer a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacred plant.” Elevationists claim “no divine authority, nor authoritarian structure,” and hence welcome people from all religious and cultural backgrounds.
Despite concerns within the surrounding neighborhood, Berke says members of the congregation can invoke their First Amendment rights to practice their religion in the building as they please. He insists the church is not an excuse to get around Colorado’s restrictions on getting high in public.
First Amendment rights aside, legal experts say that the definition of “open and public consumption” was never even specified in Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized adult use cannabis. “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 statutes,” says attorney Christian Sederberg, from cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC.
Using cannabis in religious ritual is not dissimilar from using wine during Christian communion or the Jewish Sabbath. Beside, the church won’t actually sell cannabis.
“First and foremost, this is a community church,” says Berke. “There are rumors that this is a rasta smoking lounge or a nightclub. It’s not. It’s a safe place to congregate and consume.” He adds that Elevationism isn’t about replacing whatever your existing faith might be, but to supplement it.
That said, this isn’t the first church to incorporate cannabis as a sacrament. Cannabis is mentioned in the Bible as kaneh-bosm, an ingredient in the holy anointing oil, often used by Jesus, and in the kitaret, or ritual incense, commonly burnt in Judaic tradition.
In fact, the word Christ means “anointed,” and in Christianity, Jesus is considered the Messiah. Christ was said to have gone around anointing people with the holy oil, whose recipe called for no less than nine pounds of kaneh-bosm.
On 4/20 at the church’s official launch event, called “Elevate 2017,” cannabis industry folk and policymakers will hold seminars and make speeches, while at night the church will host comedians and musicians, and screen documentaries.
The event will also be broadcast on Facebook live to ensure that it begins to make waves in an international community.