The International Church of Cannabis opened in Denver last month on, April 20th, a date unofficially celebrated by marijuana enthusiasts. Now, 4 weeks later, church co-founder and building owner Steve Berke had a meeting with the West Wash Park Neighborhood Association (WWNA) to address concerns and questions from neighbors about parking, noise, smell and traffic related to the church’s opening. According to WWNA members, these are issues that would be addressed with any church or business opening in the area. Berke was not quite convinced of this however, feeling that the church was being unfairly targeted due to the fact that it has the word “cannabis” in the title.
Clashes Over Noise and Parking
Neighbors claim that their primary concern is sound, stating that the church opened very suddenly without reaching out to the WWNA first. They claim that traffic has increased and that church staff have been caught parking illegally on the street. Rumors of the church bringing in food trucks for special events also raised concerns for parking in the area. Berke insisted that the church is not large enough to warrant such a move. He explained that one of the conditions for attendees joining events at the church is that they don’t drive. With attendees forbidden to drive, he claims that the parking is not an issue and if it were to become one, he would hire a valet or external lot.
Issues Over a Lack of Introduction
WWPNA board member Gertie Grant, who heads the zoning committee, started out the meeting by saying, “This is an unusual meeting for our zoning committee, because usually when there is a new enterprise or development in our neighborhood, they come to the West Wash Park Neighborhood Association and say, ‘We would like to meet with the neighbors and tell the neighbors what we’re doing.’ Things will go more smoothly if there is an introductory meeting with the neighbors, and this did not happen here.”
Controversy Stemming from an Early Opening
Berke insists that the church did not open secretly but rather they decided to open earlier than the initial plan which didn’t give them time to properly meet all the neighbors. Initially, when the building was bought, Berke planned to turn it into condos or apartments. He heard that the WWNA frowned quite hard on outside developers coming in and a colleague suggested that he leave it as a church. Berke agreed, realizing they could use the space to help change the public perception of marijuana and allow those who benefited from the plant to come together in a sacred space. The church’s religion is called “Elevationism.” According to Berke, “Elevationists believe that individual spiritual search for meaning can be heightened and deepened with ritual cannabis.”
While concerns with neighbors remain an ongoing issue that will have to be addressed as each issue arises, the church continues to grow, with members already at over 1,000. Events are invite only, usually attended by about 35 people with services being broadcast online for members around the world. The church also offers wedding services for those who may be looking for a marijuana friendly “green” wedding.