It's been a dramatic inaugural season for the International Church of Cannabis, which made its official debut on 4/20 of last year. The church came under fire from West Washington Park neighbors and City of Denver officials alike over fears of public cannabis consumption and community-crowding events under the guise of Elevationism, the faith practiced at the church.
Despite the public spats, the church is still open and holding weekly services, and its founders have big plans for celebrating its one-year anniversary on the ultimate high holiday. After holding a private meeting with its congregation on Friday, April 20, the church will bring in Grammy-winning musician Melissa Etheridge and contemporary artist Ron English to speak about cannabis and art as well as sign autographs.
English will talk about his "POPaganda" work (combining fine art with advertising and brand imagery), debut a new art toy and sell some of his less-expensive pieces in a pop-up shop at the church, according to church co-founder Lee Molloy. And although he's not promising that Etheridge — a vocal cannabis advocate after using the plant to counteract chemotherapy problems brought on by breast cancer — will perform, Molloy isn't ruling it out, either.
"The day means something to us, because it was the day we chose to come out to the world," Molloy says of 4/20. "It was a special day for us. No one really knew who we were or what we were doing."
Molloy and fellow church co-founders Steve Berke and Briley Hale were issued citations for their first 4/20 event, when undercover officers from the Denver Police Department alleged that they were able to freely enter the church and saw multiple people openly consuming cannabis. The church founders says the officers entered their private event under false pretenses, however, and have fought the city over the charges. A mistrial in that case was called in February; a new trial is scheduled for this summer.
"When you do anything in life, something big and grand, you have dreams of what it's going to be — and I think we were met with more opposition than we were hoping. The court cases have gone on way too long. It's almost 4/20 again now, and we're not supposed to go to trial until July," Molloy explains. But while they wait for their day in court, they've mended relations with neighbors, he adds.
"I think that if we haven't been accepted by the local residents entirely, I think we've pretty much been left alone," he continues. "They're ignoring us, we're ignoring them, and life goes on. But I think we have relatively good relations with our neighbors, and things have calmed down a bit."
The city's charges against the founders haven't prevented the church from holding consumption-friendly sacraments every Friday; cannabis consumption is part of Elevationism's religious practices, the founders say.
And Friday, April 20, will be no different, according to Molloy. The private ceremony for church members will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m., followed by the public event featuring Etheridge and English from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets to the public portion of the party (21+) are free and can be obtained at Eventbrite.
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