The International Church of Cannabis Opens Today in Colorado

By Michael Cheng | April 20, 2017

The highly coveted 4/20 (April 20) holiday is finally here! For cannabis enthusiasts, this day is typically reserved for consuming monumental amounts of the plant, mostly out of appreciation and personal entertainment.

But for Elevation Ministries, a Colorado non-profit religious group, the unofficial holiday marks something much deeper, in a spiritual sense. The organization will open the International Church of Cannabis (ICC) to the public, welcoming individuals who are interested in accelerating self-discovery through cannabis, as a “sacred flower”.

According to founding member Steve Berke, members of the church are called “elevationists” and do not acknowledge or submit to a divine authority (higher being). Hence, it’s not possible to convert over to the nascent belief system. The organization welcomes people from all cultural backgrounds, including those who are already devoted to a different religion.

On the ICC website, the ICC clarifies that they do not have any missionaries and bishops. Instead, the church is led by poohbahs (influencers) and ministers. Childcare is not available at the establishment and all volunteer applications are subject to background checks. There is a $4.20 monthly fee (paid annually) per member to ensure the facility is maintained and the group’s objectives are funded properly. All donations made to the ICC are tax deductible, as the organization was granted 501(C)(3) exemption status.

The group established its worshiping grounds at a 113-year-old, renovated church facility, located in West Washington Park, Denver. This is where members of the ICC conduct events, celebrations and worship the plant. Last month, the church was granted a zoning permit for operation.

“We were so happy to find a space that already had a spiritual history, and to be able to retain that element in the use of the property,”

said Briley Hale, spokesperson for the ICC.

“It’s a great privilege to be able to turn this building around, rather than watching it being converted into condos or left abandoned to attract vagrancy and crime.”

Interestingly, this isn’t the first church of cannabis to be founded in the US. Prior to the ICC, The First Church of Cannabis, Inc. was established in Indianapolis, Indiana.

From a legal perspective, the organization is facing intense scrutiny for attempting to circumvent guidelines set forth in Amendment 64, which prevents “open and public” consumption of cannabis. Last year, Initiative 300 was passed to allow cannabis use in registered businesses with special permits. It is important to point out that these are all assertions and the ICC has not been penalized for any wrongdoing.

According to Rachel Gillette, an attorney who specializes in cannabis law, it wouldn’t take much for the ICC to enforce their belief system as sincere and authentic on a federal level.

The organization intends to consume cannabis in the same way Christians partake in wine during communion. The ICC makes this comparison to pass off the herb as a mainstream sacramental offering for people and city officials who are skeptical about the group’s activities.

To streamline its expansion efforts, the group launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. So far, the ICC has raised over $30,000 and backers are entitled to receive T-shirts and exclusive memberships with their donations.

Michael Cheng

Michael is a legal editor with publications for Blackberry, Lifehack.org and R Magazine. He specializes in tech startups, cannabis gadgets and fitness wearables. He enjoys spending time outdoors, being a productive father and partaking in a nightly toke after the end of a long day.

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