Can I Get an Amen? Cannabis Churches in the US

Hands Holding Marijuana
Photo by: Aha-Soft/Shuttertsock

There are churches of all styles across the United States of America. They represent different religions and different beliefs, and each church has its own community of followers, members, leaders, and more. People volunteer and get to know each other. They share in each other's joys and sorrows. Some have lots of music, others lots of silence. Some are even choreographed, in a way (stand, sit, stand, sit, kneel...). 

Whether you attend religious services regularly or you haven't set foot in a church since your confirmation, it may surprise you to learn that there have been new churches popping up in states around the country over the last several years: cannabis churches. 

Cannabis church leaders cite links to Rastafari and Native American traditions and rituals that include marijuana, and in doing so they are able to use religious freedom laws like the Religious Freedom Act (the one that allows business owners to refuse service to a customer for religious reasons) to defend their congregations and push for legalization laws. Some churches encourage marijuana consumption on site, while others are forced to abide by stricter laws.  

Denver, CO: The International Church of Cannabis 

International Church of Cannabis Chapel"Love. Create. Elevate." That is the banner that welcomes followers to the International Church of Cannabis. On April 20, 2017, that church opened its doors to the public. The followers and church members call themselves Elevationists, and their Mission speaks for itself: 

"The International Church of Cannabis' 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. Our lifestance is that an individual's spiritual journey, and search for meaning, is one of self-discovery that can be accelerated with ritual cannabis use." 

The church recognizes no formal divine authority (God, Allah, Brahma, etc.) and is entirely inclusive, welcoming visitors and members of all cultural and religious backgrounds. To them, using cannabis is a sacred and spiritual act, which grants them a Constitutional right to congregate and partake of their sacrament. Most Elevationists agree on the existence of a Universal Creative Force, but each follower determines what that means for them. 

The inside of The International Church of Cannabis is painted with a flamboyant arrangement of colors, patterns, and shapes (complete with rainbows melting down pillars). Cartoonish people and animals are featured in enormous proportion on odd walls. You just can't help but wonder, when you take the 360 degree tour, what it must be like to take a smooth hit in a place like that. 

San Jose, CA: Coachella Valley Church 

Coachella Valley Church in San Jose is a much more religiously grounded example of a cannabis church. Coachella is a Rastafarian congregation with roots in Judaism and Christianity, and members tend to believe the teachings of the Bible. They view marijuana as a prevalent sacrament in their religion, where it is used to enhance meditation or spiritual growth. 

Since its recent opening to the public, Coachella has run into a number of problems with local officials and law enforcement. The cannabis church is accused of being a dispensary in disguise, selling marijuana but not paying taxes on the sales. This is due to reports of a Gift Shop section in a back room of the church where members of the congregation can purchase marijuana products. There have been several cases of similar churches being shut down in California. For now, however, Coachella Valley Church seems to be doing just fine. 

Indianapolis, IN: The First Church of Cannabis 

This church, unfortunately, no longer seems to be in existence. Founded in March of 2015, The First Church of Cannabis was hoping to use the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act to legalize cannabis as a religious liberty. Members of the church, who identified as Cannaterians, launched a fundraising campaign in July of 2015. They have not yet reached their goal (and their website no longer exists). 

The church did open its doors in July of 2015, holding its first full service (complete with religious hymns and stoner anthems). The “sermon” consisted of testimonials and arguments from church members in favor of marijuana's legalization as a religious liberty. Unlike the other cannabis churches, however, marijuana was not allowed on the grounds of The First Church of Cannabis due to state laws. 

Can I Get an Amen? 

While cannabis churches are truly intriguing (after reading up on some of these places, I was really starting to warm up to the idea), it's easy to see why critics might think this movement is an excuse for people to sell weed, get high, and avoid taxes. There's really no telling how this will play out: Will the government's hatred for marijuana outweigh their love for religious liberty? Stay tuned: We've got you covered with all of the latest marijuana news.