Washington Park residents are not happy about the International Church of Cannabis. About forty people came to the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association’s board meeting on May 2; most of them were there to talk about the church, and only twenty minutes of the meeting had been set aside for that discussion.
Sheliah Reynolds, who lives about 25 feet from the church property, at 400 South Logan Street, had reached out to the board in advance, requesting a chance to speak about the church. At the meeting, board president Nicholas Amrhein said that Reynolds was representing the voice of concerned neighbors.
Reynolds's voice cracked and she held back tears as she talked about not feeling safe in her neighborhood since the church opened its doors last month. "This situation affects a lot of us personally," she said. "For the first time since I've lived here in the neighborhood, I have not felt safe in my own neighborhood, and that does make me feel emotional, because it's not okay. It's not okay that I should feel unsafe in my home, in my own neighborhood, where I live with a preschooler, because of outside influences who have come into our community to use a church structure for their own purposes."
Reynolds said she's concerned that the church, which is home to the Elevationist sect, is billing itself as an “international destination,” which will only bring more people into the once quiet, private neighborhood.
"I understand that this is a progressive community," she continued. "We get that. We're Denver — we're progressive, we understand that. I do have family members who work in the cannabis industry, so I think if you talk to many of us, our personal beliefs about pot consumption, we're all pretty progressive. Colorado has been a leader in terms of consumption, but what our concerns are is advertising our neighborhood as an international destination for pot worshippers. That, to me, is not okay."
Reynolds also said she thinks the church sets a dangerous precedent for the state, citing reports that places in Colorado Springs are considering opening pot clubs based on the same religious grounds as the International Church of Cannabis.
On 4/20, she said, busloads of people were coming to the church, and people were stumbling out of the building.
Steve Berke, owner of the church, was given two minutes to respond; he said that security cameras disprove Reynolds's claims. "We're not trying to hide; we're not trying to have some sort of cloak of secrecy," he told the group. "We want to be respectful of the neighborhood."
He welcomed anyone in the neighborhood to stop by during open hours, when consumption is not allowed, to learn more about Elevation Ministries.
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Jennifer Thijs, a committee chair who organizes the neighborhood newsletter, lives across from the church. On 4/20, she and a friend headed over to the church around 4:10 p.m. just to see what was happening. While the church was not admitting non-members, "I told them we were with West Washington Park and they invited us in," she recalled.
At 4:20, there was a moment of silence and then everyone lit up. "It was like boom, this cloud," Thijs said.
Because there was so much interest in the topic, there will be a neighborhood association meeting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, to talk about the International Church of Cannabis. Watch for more information on the WWPNA website.