A ‘Higher’ Calling: Inside Denver’s International Church of Cannabis

Tucked away on 400 Logan St. in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, rests a 113-year old red brick building with a story to tell. Under the April sun, this antiquated church may not seem out of the ordinary…until you take a closer look. This is the new home to Elevation Ministries of the International Church of Cannabis (ICOC), a Colorado religious non-profit organization that seeks to educate and enlighten those who believe the use of cannabis as a sacrament can simulate ascension to a higher state of being.

William Berke, father of owner Steve Berke, instructs guests they can enter for a private viewing of opening day at the International Church of <strong>Cannabis</strong> Thursday, April 20, 2017 on Logan Street in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)William Berke, father of owner Steve Berke, instructs guests they can enter for a private viewing of opening day at the International Church of Cannabis Thursday, April 20, 2017 on Logan Street in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Though it would seem April 20th would be the perfect day for a massive grand opening celebration, spirits weren’t as high as expected due to some last-minute legal hurdles that prevented the group from allowing the “public” consumption they had hoped to provide.

Co-founder Zach Gardner wipes down tables outside on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)Co-founder Zach Gardner wipes down tables outside on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Those who made their way out to the grand opening on April 20th were met with a warm and enthusiastic team of Elevation Ministries staff members eager to introduce Denver to their renovated space and culture. No formal theology or dogmas come attached with the practice of Elevationism, as outlined by members of the church. Instead, the organization is proud to promote total inclusivity of all walks of life.

Owner Steve Berke, center, and Michael Malone, right, check age and identification of visitors like Arvada resident Joel Allen, left, on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis Thursday, April 20, 2017 on Logan Street in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Behind the astral-themed entrance doors, the interior decor inside is welcoming and modern, a stark contrast to the building’s anachronistic interior design. Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel and American Artist Kenny Scharf are largely responsible for the elaborate and extensive array of wall paintings, murals, and scattered art installations. Various visual art pieces can be seen throughout the facility, including several waist-high, hand-carved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles statues, digitized tile art, and a hollowed out television flush with South Park figurines, some of which can be purchased at their retail counter.

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The church believes cannabis is their sacrament and calls themselves “Elevationists.”

For a city that welcomes tens of thousands of annual travelers every year to visit and experience legal cannabis, Denver has some pretty draconian social consumption bylaws. Currently, those seeking to consume their legal cannabis must do so only on private property with permission by the owner and out of public sight. However, with Initiative 300, a bill passed by the city of Denver last November, city residents and lawmakers sought to change these rules to allow safe access points for social consumption with the implementation of a 4-year pilot program.

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These provisions would eventually grant organizations (namely businesses) the ability to seek approval by neighborhood and city business groups to allow for consumption areas (with caveats) onsite for those who wish to use cannabis in a public atmosphere.

Tay Lomax smokes at a private viewing on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

Steve Burke, founder of ICOC and Elevation Ministries, was confident that he would be able to allow for “open and public consumption” on the premises after his legal team, Vicente Sederberg LLC, advised him on the ambiguous language pertaining to what “open” and “public” could be defined as. However, he was informed prior to the church’s grand opening that the ministry would have to restrict consumption to a private listed event at 3 p.m. Although public access to the church was allowed between 12-2 p.m., which saw a healthy turnout of several dozen visitors, many more were present later that afternoon, eager to spark up under the electric neon wall art.

Visitors were in awe of the International Church of Cannabis on its opening day.

Burke and his team at the Ministry plan to utilize their new space to the fullest extent over the upcoming months, with daily 420 sacraments where members who sign up will be allowed access to onsite private consumption. Both members and the general public will also be able to visit the space for lectures, industry events, workshops, and even cannabis-themed weddings.

Guests greet each other at a private viewing on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

As for the rest of the busy 4/20 weekend, the church hosted a handful of gatherings which included live music, comedy performances, and even food trucks to welcome in new members and neighborhood locals to the newly renovated space.

Featured comedian Kyle Grooms takes pictures of the interior of the International Church of Cannabis. Artwork in the chapel was completed by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

If you are interested in learning more about Elevation Ministries and the International Church of cannabis, stop by the next time you are in the area and spark up a conversation, or even a joint. Both are encouraged!

Chicago resident Andrea Camp, from left, gets a light from Lakewood resident Kimm Miller, as Mia Jane smokes at a private viewing on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)Chicago resident Andrea Camp, from left, gets a light from Lakewood resident Kimm Miller, as Mia Jane smokes at a private viewing on opening day of the International Church of Cannabis. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

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