For at least 3,500 years, cannabis has been used as an enethogen, a chemical substance used in religious and spiritual contexts. While the religions that prohibit the use of intoxicating substances also tend to fall on the anti-weed side of the spectrum, others — from ancient, Vedic-period India to modern-day Rastafari — have considered it a sacred plant. Denver’s International Church of Cannabis belongs very much to the latter group.
The headquarters of the non-profit religious organization Elevation Ministries opened, naturally, on April 20, 2017.
“It’s exactly what is says on the label there,” said co-founder Lee Molloy. “It’s a church of cannabis with an international following.”
The church has all the services that you’d find in a typical church – Sunday services, weddings, end of life ceremonies, and the like – but feature the use of marijuana as an overarching motif. The mission of the church, Molloy said, is to give a home to people who use cannabis as part of their spiritual life.
“Ritual mindful use of cannabis can help open up ideas; it can help break down the barriers that we have placed upon us as children,” he said. “It can really, ultimately help us achieve our spiritual goals, and that’s where we went with that, in a way that was accessible and not too scary to regular people.”
The church came to exist because its founders had the opportunity to purchase the building — a former Lutheran church that had stood at 400 South Logan Street since the early 20th century. After purchasing it, the founders of Elevationism, the religion practiced by the church, transformed its interior into a Technicolor temple with psychedelic rainbow-colored murals painted by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel.
“Just because it’s a church doesn’t mean it has to be dowdy and dull and boring,” Molloy said. “There can be happiness, there can be joy, there can be beauty, there can be fun and excitement. And I think the love and respect that we have for our community and the colors which represent multiculturalism is all right there as part of our church.”
Elevationism doesn’t require that its members convert to the religion and features no divine law, unquestionable doctrine or authoritarian organizational structure. Its members can double dip and be members of other religions as well.
“The most important ritual that we have is the lighting of a candle. We have a ritual candle that we light at the beginning of every service, and we say a meditational prayer that basically brings everyone into there. Then, as part of that, there’s the ceremonial sharing of the joints and passing around cannabis and really connecting on that level so that people sort of create and share communally.”
Elevationists celebrate a number of existing holidays with their own twist. For instance, the Jewish members of the church are planning a Bob Marley Seder to begin Passover. There’s also turkey-centric Danksgiving feast, for which the church invites the homeless and others in need, and Festivus, a Christmas-time replacement for people who don’t celebrate traditional holidays. April 20 is also an important date for Elevationists for obvious reasons.
In addition to feeding the homeless, members of the church have organized drives to give warm winter clothing to those experiencing homelessness, to gather toys for children in hospitals during Christmas, and to clean up the neighborhood’s streets.
Elevationists, which span as many as 100 countries, don’t conform to the stoner stereotype – though, as Molloy said, neither do most stoners.
“The way that stoners are portrayed in the media is moronic and unrealistic for the most part, and it is a very low level of understanding of what using cannabis is, especially whether you’re using it for health purposes, mental health purposes, or spiritual health purposes. All of those are gone when it comes to representation in the media,” he said. “There are many good people out here, working hard to change the perception of what it means to use cannabis and how it can be used in serious ways, not just to get high – although there’s nothing wrong with that either.”
The International Church of Cannabis is open to the public 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the Beyond Experience, a guided meditation and laser-light show (because of course they have a laser-light show). For more information, call (303) 630-9500 or visit elevationists.org.