HASH(0x292dc1c)

Puff, puff, pray: Inside Colorado’s International Church of Cannabis

Puff, puff, pray: Inside Denver's cannabis church

DENVER — Walk into Denver’s International Church of Cannabis, and even the sober might feel a little bit stoned.

Master Spanish pop artist Okuda San Miguel transformed the 113-year-old chapel into an eye-popping mixture of rainbow-coloured geometric shapes and psychedelic bird-human creatures.

“People typically walk up here and their mouths fall open,” said church co-founder Lee Molloy, sitting in a pew surrounded by the stunning murals.

The church came first and the religion came second. Steve Berke, one of the founders, enlisted help from his parents to purchase the historic building, which cost over $1 million, Molloy said.

At first they weren’t sure what to do with it. They mused about turning it into condominiums, or a “mansion for a Broncos player,” Molloy said, before they finally settled on using the church as it was intended — well, sort of.

They call it Elevationism. The basic principle is that using cannabis allows worshippers to achieve the best version of themselves.

“We don’t pretend to know the mind of God. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I have nowhere near enough arrogance in me to be able to do that,” said Molloy, wearing the church’s interlocking-triangle symbol around his neck.

“It’s about self-discovery, going on your own spiritual journey. This is really a place in which you can safely do that — congregate with other like-minded people and find your best version of yourself.”

The church opened this year on April 20, the annual day of celebration for weed enthusiasts. Since then, membership has increased from 50 to 500, said Molloy, and a steady stream of visitors has been traipsing through to admire the trippy space.

The public is welcome between noon and 3 p.m. Monday to Friday to enjoy the stunning murals and to sit and meditate. Even though there’s no consumption during those hours, the church only allows people over the age of 21, the minimum age for using cannabis in Colorado.

“You basically do the same things you do in any other church, just without the guys in the weird black outfits,” said Molloy.

On the weekends, the church holds members-only events where using marijuana is allowed. Smoking pot in public is banned in the state, so transforming the building into a private space where only members are invited is crucial to getting around the law.

Membership is free, but Molloy said the church is fundraising online and welcomes donations. There’s also a gift shop downstairs, in a kitschy congregation space decorated with large Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines and an original Space Invaders arcade game.

From the outside, the church would be indistinguishable from any other place of worship in Denver, if it weren’t for hallucinatory graffiti-inspired murals painted by American artist Kenny Scharf.

The church hasn’t arrived in Denver without controversy. The day it opened, Dan Pabon, a Democrat in the state’s House of Representatives, tried to add an amendment banning cannabis consumption in churches to a bill.

But some of Pabon’s fellow representatives argued that the amendment would be an unconstitutional restriction on religion, and it was scuttled, The Denver Post reported.

Molloy dismisses a suggestion that because the founders purchased the church before coming up with Elevationism, the religion isn’t legitimate.

“It’s irrelevant to me what other people think about this. We’re doing what we’re doing. It’s for real,” he said. “It’s a very serious undertaking. In time, it’ll prove itself.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fiery collision involving truck closes Highway 1 at Three Valley Gap

Drivers should expect major delays and congestion; estimated time of re-opening is 2 p.m.

Spectators asked to be on best behaviour at Shuswap school sporting events

Policy asks that spectators make positive comments remain silent

Rezoning to accommodate Ashley Furniture store highlights traffic concerns

Developer would like covenant requiring traffic study to exclude furniture store site

Knights of Columbus step up for Shuswap community groups

Organizations from Shuswap, Thompson regions receive $15,000

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

Prolific offenders from Alberta lead RCMP on chase from Kelowna to Abbotsford

Men first reported in Chilliwack ending with allegedly stolen vehicle in an Abbotsford pond

Adapting to love along the Columbia River

One man starts a GoFundme to help his partner with health costs caused on the trip where they met

Most Read