Neither the Colorado Legislature, nor dubious city officials, nor one errant fog machine could stop Denver’s first weed church from its first members-only celebration of their marijuana sacrament.
And about eight hours before that, Elevationist Steve Berke had to cut short an interview with Denverite because of a fog machine that set off fire alarms in the church at 400 South Logan Street.
Days before that, city officials expressed reservations about the legality of a church that hoped to allow its congregation to smoke pot together.
Suffice it to say, the church trying to do something with marijuana never done before in Denver needed a miracle.
Step one: An invite-only event with ambiguous membership requirements.
Elevation Ministries began the afternoon with a public event with no pot smoking whatsoever from noon until 2 p.m.. Then, they planned for a “invite-only/members-only” event from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m., where, yes, pot would be consumed.
“Not everyone who’s attending is a member of our church,” explained Elevationist Steve Berke. “We have a lot of members of the industry who are coming. Basically, the city attorney said we could have consumption in our church as long as it’s a private, invite-only event.”
But the long-term vision to have a community of people who smoke weed for spiritual development wasn’t settled in time for the grand opening. At least, not in terms of who gets to be a member.
“To tell you the truth, we’re not exactly sure,” Berke said. “At least in our IndieGogo, a $5 donation will get you an online membership. How we’re going to have membership to the actual church is still a discussion with our attorneys and with the city attorney on how we can do this.”
Neighbors and the Elevationists themselves seem unsure of what to expect.
West Washington Park resident Cat Vielma says she’s really glad someone is taking care of the church.
“It was run-down, it was boarded up, it was sad. I felt sad looking at a beautiful piece of property that no one seemed to care about,” she said. “I think the issues that neighbors have with this church are very similar to the issues that they had the previous church, which was parking.”
To that point, Elevationist Lee Molloy says that the church is not encouraging people to park at the church, or to drive while high. In fact, in their invitation to the grand opening, people are encouraged to take a ride-hailing service like Lyft or Uber, or else park at the K-Mart.
Molloy feels that parking concerns are a veiled critique of the church itself.
“If we were an evangelical Christian church, we wouldn’t be hearing any of this,” he said of the parking issues. “I would love to be a fly on the wall and listen to people go say they were going to go complain to the local Christian church that just opened up.”
Molloy says the church will behave like most other churches, including being a community resource.
“Volunteering in the community will be a big part of what we do, just like any other church,” he said. “The first project we identified was the $1 million church we’re restoring. … The inside is painted by Okuda San Miguel, he is a world-class painter, he is well sought after, and he has just given Denver a gift of one beautiful chapel. We have given this city a beautiful resource.”
As for Vielma, the weed doesn’t bother her. A big portion of her concern is logistics.
“I’m sure many other papers will say ‘those grumpy neighbors!’, but I’m 29, I voted for [Initiative 300], I’m all for that, I’m also about following rules of law and that stuff,” she said.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Lee Molloy’s name. The error has been corrected.