The thing is, though, recreational cannabis is now legal in Colorado, so Steve Berke and Lee Molloy decided to give it a go. They are opening the doors of their International Church of Cannabis in Denver today – which is, of course, 4/20, alluding to "420" as slang for cannabis. They even have a name for their religious philosophy, Elevationism, which they describe as "elevating one’s life and spiritual self-discovery through the sacrament of cannabis."
The church’s stated purpose is to serve as “a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacred plant.” Just how that will be achieved is still up in the air, but church leaders told 9News that programming is expected to include guest speakers, comedians, artists, musicians and film screenings.
And while city officials ― and skeptical neighbors ― are concerned that founders Steve Berke and Lee Molloy are merely exploiting a legal loophole to create a cannabis club, the two promise the church isn’t just a smokescreen for illegal activities. No marijuana will be sold at the church.
“First and foremost, this is a community church,” Berke told Denver publication Westword. “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.”
“Elevationism is about elevating one’s life and spiritual self-discovery through the sacrament of cannabis,” Molloy added. “I grew up in an evangelical, Pentecostal religion with people speaking in tongues and falling on the floor. If those people are considered a real religion, then why not us?”
Many people consume mind-altering substances as part of their spiritual or magical practices. Aside from sacramental wine, such as that used in Tuesday’s elixir rite or the Gnostic Mass, I don’t go that route because I find mental clarity important for my magical work. Still, my education in experimental psychology included a bit of psychopharmacology, and I find models like Timothy Leary’s "set and setting" to be entirely plausible. So if this works for folks, I think it’s great, even though it wouldn’t interest me personally.
As far as legality goes, the "gateway drug" hypothesis was debunked by the LaGuardia Committee Report in the 1940’s and has no scientific basis. Beyond that, there’s no scientific evidence showing that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol, so it seems to me the most reasonable approach to regulating it should be something like the system they now have in Colorado. At the very least, it should be removed from Schedule 1 at the Federal level, since the key criteria there is that a drug have "no medical uses" – and cannabis has several.
On one level, I would really like to see somebody try to challenge the legality of the church and take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. I think there’s a reasonable chance that Neil Gorsuch, Mr. Religious Freedom, might rule in the church’s favor, and then the fundie heads would really explode.