DENVER - On the same day Denver’s controversial International Church of Cannabis opened to the public, a state lawmaker called for a ban on consumption of marijuana in churches.
State Representative Dan Pabon, a Democrat, pushed for a last-minute amendment Thursday to his own bill that defines what it means to openly and publicly consume marijuana. Rep. Pabon said he proposed the amendment after hearing news about the International Church of Cannabis.
“To try to tarnish people’s religious beliefs and form a cannabis church seems a step too far,” Pabon said.
The House denied permission to bring the amendment up for a vote Thursday morning. Rep. Pabon’s bill passed through the House without changes by a 34-31 vote. Rep. Pabon said the amendment was meant to send a signal of disapproval to the International Church of Cannabis.
“I think it’s not only an insult to all our religious institutions, but it’s also patently against what the voters, when they passed Amendment 64, asked for,” Pabon said.
The International Church of Cannabis opened to the public at noon at the corner of South Logan Street and East Dakota Avenue in Denver. Church members call themselves “Elevationists” and consider marijuana a sacrament.
“I use cannabis as a sacrament for my own spiritual religious purposes as do many of our congregants,” Steve Berke said.
Berke is the landlord of the church and heads up the digital marketing company that’s been promoting the church. Berke said he was “offended” and “outraged” by the amendment Rep. Pabon brought to the House floor on Thursday.
“I think [Rep. Pabon] should be embarrassed and humiliated that he tried to slip an amendment by and sneak it in to try to ban people from practicing their religion in peace,” Berke said.
Berke said he met with city officials on Monday to discuss the opening of the church and laws regarding marijuana consumption. Dan Rowland, from Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses, confirmed a meeting took place with leaders of the church along with the city attorney. Rowland explained that marijuana could be consumed in the church, but only during private events.
“We’ve spoken with the city attorney and they have approved this structure for us,” Steve Berke said. “We’re allowed to consume in this church as long as it’s not open to the public.”
The International Church of Cannabis held an open house Thursday from noon to 2:00 p.m. Berke said a private event would be held from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m. Thursday.
“We had our own private list of people who got invited and you can’t show up to the door and just press a button and be invited into the private event,” Berke said.
Rep. Dan Pabon said he believes the church is “patently illegal” and expects it may be shut down.
“So if they’re covered, then what will we see next week?” Pabon asked. “The church of cocaine? And then the week after that, the church of heroine?”
While the International Church of Cannabis plans to celebrate the annual pot holiday of 4/20 through the weekend, plans for the future are less clear.
“We’re not sure,” Berke admitted. “We’re not sure. We’re going to try to cooperate with the city attorneys and the city council and make sure we’re good neighbors.”
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