The new occupants of an old church at 400 South Logan Street have been raising eyebrows since Google Maps starting listing the address as the "International Church of Cannabis."
The occupants' response? "Yup, that's us."
Steve Berke and Lee Molloy, founders of the International Church of Cannabis, had been living, working and practicing their religion of Elevationism at the building for months, but it wasn't until the International Church of Cannabis showed up on Google that its neighbors in West Washington Park started taking notice.
"First and foremost, this is a community church," Berke says. "There are rumors that this is a rasta smoking lounge or a nightclub. It's not. It's a safe place to congregate and consume."
Yes, Berke is talking about consuming cannabis, but he and Molloy say the church is much more about volunteering and connecting with the community – and if those connections are made during a smoke sesh, all the better.
Steve Berke (left) and Lee Molloy have been renovating the church for the past ten months.
"Elevationism is about elevating one's life and spiritual self-discovery through the sacrament of cannabis," Molloy explains. "I grew up in an evangelical, Pentecostal religion with people speaking in tongues and falling on the floor. If those people are considered a real religion, then why not us?"
Berke says that the International Church of Cannabis building is zoned for religious use and as a single-family home, and that cannabis consumption by those 21 and over is legally allowed inside – something he plans to put to the test when the church officially opens to the public on April 20 after a three-day welcoming event.
As the church gears up for the festivities, some neighbors have voiced their concerns and confusion on such social-media websites as Facebook and Nextdoor. Berke says he's sent a letter to nearby residents explaining the International Church of Cannabis and telling them there's no reason to worry about parties or neighborhood disruptions.
None of the murals inside the International Church of Cannabis actually feature cannabis.
"Fear of the unknown," Molloy says. "This is just a church."
Berke and Molloy plan to meet with the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association within the next week to answer questions and calm any fears; in the meantime, they've been giving private tours of the church to neighbors who want to learn more. (Calls to the WWPNA have not been returned.)
Berke's family bought the property around two years ago as a real-estate investment, but instead of turning the property into condos or another development, they opted to use it as a community center for Elevationism Ministries. Last summer they decided to return the building to its original use as a church and began renovating the structure; Los Angeles artist Kenny Scharf volunteered to paint murals outside.
"If we wanted to make money off this, we could've turned it into an apartment complex," Berke says. "This is a Colorado nonprofit and an organized religion." He adds that he's still figuring out hours of operation and a regular sermon schedule.
Detail of a Kenny Scharf mural.
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Because the church is a nonprofit, Berke points out that it must rely on donations as it continues to plan community events, so he set up an IndieGoGo campaign in hopes of raising $100,000.
You can find out more about the International Church of Cannabis on the Elevationism Facebook page.