A handful of random dudes seem to be in charge. They are all wearing flip flops and cargo shorts. One of them is wearing a Notorious BIG t-shirt. The soundtrack is Champagne Supernova. Instead of a bible in the back of the pew in front of me there’s a glass ashtray clipped on with a metal office clip, like the kind you’d get from Staples. Aside from the pews, there are also a couple of those chairs from like the early aughts that are a whole hand that you sit in, but except on these the hand is holding a jay. The walls are full-on psychedelic rainbows. It’s Sunday at 7pm and I’m in the chapel of the International Church of Cannabis, in Denver, Colorado.
It’s easy to become a member of the International Church of Cannabis. You sign up online and they send you an email that “serves as your personal invitation to attend our services.” Because cannabis is consumed on-site, this hurdle is legally necessary. But it also makes it so you have to RSVP to attend and people without email addresses and internet savvy are by definition not welcome, which feels pretty unchurchlike.
The service is supposed to start in a half hour. I’m not high yet. You have to bring your own weed I guess which seems weird. And like not spiritual. Oh, wait, cool there’s a dog sitting in the pew in front of me right now. I feel better. The dudes in cargo shorts are shuffling around setting up cameras on tripods cause I guess there’s supposed to be a talent show open mic after the service? Or maybe they’re filming us for the feds! Just kidding but also what the fuck is happening?
The dog is jumping up one of the pews greeting a bunch of people that just got here. His owner tells him, when he comes trotting back all eager, “I don’t got nothin’, all I got is love.” And then throws a treat clear across the chapel for the dog to run and get. I didn’t bring any weed but I might get a contact high from the dude sitting on the pew in front of me, the dog owner. He shouts, “What up, pimp?!” at a dude in a flat-billed cap who just sauntered in. That dude says, “I’m about to smoke a bowl right now.” He takes out his pipe and it looks like the magic ball thing from Pokémon. Now there are 15 people here not including me. People periodically cough intensely.
Just overheard: “I’m Jewish. I’m racially Jewish.”
Also this: “We’re all psychic.”
There is another woman here who is also by herself and the dog is trying to get into her handbag right now. Someone behind me says into a microphone, “Welcome, welcome, welcome.” It’s one of the cargo short dudes. He is saying more things now and he is also standing in front of the 15 of us, in the center of the room. The place is set up like theater in the round with pews on all four sides.
“We give thanks to the original energy,” he says. “We support each other on our unique spiritual journeys.”
“If anyone wants to come up and light their joints from the candle it’s kinda the one tradition we have.” The dude in front of me who owns the dog passes me his joint and now I’m happier. “Treat others as you want to be treated when your mind is healthy.”
The whole thing about the church is that there’s no doctrine. It’s just whatever people want to bring to the table. Also weed. They make a strong effort to engage the community, and tonight after the service, a talented young singer-songwriter plays. I listen and applaud and send out metalovingkindness energy from my heart to her, up there on the stage, in keeping with my own “unique spiritual practice.” When the concert ends and I turn to the woman sitting next to me to introduce myself, she gives me the cold shoulder. She isn’t representative of everyone, of course, but I am stoned and there alone and she was a bitch, so I just take it as my cue to go.
Several weeks later I meet someone at a panel discussion on psychedelics who approaches me after he found out I was a journalist and introduces himself as a pair of initials followed by the word “Daddy.” He says he has a story for me but he doesn’t use email, only phone. He is a close talker. I will never not feel oppressed by men. I diligently write down Daddy’s cell number in my notebook and decline to provide my own.
Anyway though, he knows about the weed church. He claims to be on the board or something but you can never really tell what the fuck is going on when it comes to self-important men and the words that come out of their mouths. Still, we get to talking about it and I tell him about my experience. He shares that once he was there and saw a person outside who was “clearly in need of help,” but couldn’t come in because of the email shit they make you go through. The intentions of the weed church are pure, he says, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues.
Cannabis churches throughout California have gotten into some legal entanglements for selling pot onsite, so it will be interesting to see how the industry—or whatever, spiritual movement—evolves over time.
Georgia Perry is a freelance writer currently based in Denver, Colorado. She has been published in The Atlantic, CityLab, and Vice. Follow her on Twitter @georguhperry.