The social question

The landscape of legalized cannabis in Colorado is in flux. This isn’t necessarily weird, cannabis has always been a point of legal contention and debate, and although as of October 2016, 60% of Americans supported legal cannabis, there are still many federal hurdles to cross. In Colorado, there was both a vote to stop public employees from “arresting a Colorado citizen for committing an act that is a Colorado constitutional right”, as well as strong bipartisan push to open up social use, even getting so far as authoring and passing Initiative 300 in 2016, an initiative designed to allow social use of cannabis in approved, regulated businesses. However, as of now, in April, the actual codification of the law is what is in debate. Initiative or not, many 420-friendly establishments operate in an uncertain fashion, some risking shutdown by authorities. For now, most clubs and locations follow some simple rules: 21 and over, no liquor where the bud is, and visitors are strongly encouraged to take a cab or rideshare home.  

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Tom Valdez of Club 64

Club 64

Club 64 is one such social club. Founded on the cusp of Amendment 64 legalizing recreational use in 2012 by Tom Valdez, a Navy Veteran, the proprietor of TSK Computers and founder of a ministry: We are Christian Soldiers. Club 64 was one of the first clubs open after legalization. I met with Valdez at Spectra Art Space, a small, even intimate gallery home to Club 64 and other 420 friendly events and shows. We talked about the founding of the club, and the uncertain future of social use. A big part of Club 64’s early success, according to Valdez was, as he puts it “I guessed the name.” Right on the eve of the passing of the amendment from which the club took its name, Valdez had a website operational and ready to go, because of this, Club 64’s first event drew a crowd of 135. When I asked if he was concerned with the federal uncertainty “No, Sessions is going to sit there, and they’re going to advise him, ‘how are you going to do that?’” In other words, Valdez is of the opinion that the genie was out of the bottle.

The Law

Unfortunately, the realities of the situation may be more complex. There have been rumblings about plans to restructure the so-called Cole Memo, a department of justice memorandum that set priorities for federal law enforcement on cannabis enforcement. The memo itself set 8 priorities for enforcement: the prevention of distribution of marijuana to minors, prevention of marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels, prevention of marijuana from moving out of states where it is legal, preventing the use of state-legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity, the prevention of violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana, the prevention of drugged driving or exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use, the prevention growing marijuana on public lands, and lastly, the prevention of marijuana possession or use on federal property.
The potential for a shift in these policies was what prompted the “dialing back” of Colorado’s social use bill in April, however as of April 27th, after meeting with AG Sessions, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper announced that a crackdown was unlikely under the Trump administration.

A Cannabis Church

One of the other social locations for cannabis consumption that has come to media prominence in 2017 is the International Church of Cannabis. The church is right now enjoying a plethora of headlines and media recognition, which is why I felt quite lucky to chat with co-founder Lee Molloy. From the outside, the International Church of

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Lee Molloy, Co-Founder of the International Church of Cannabis
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Kenny Scharf’s artwork on the International Church of Cannabis

Cannabis looks unassuming, even the name of the congregation: “Elevationists”, doesn’t seem all that unlike any other church, you might not even notice the Kenny Scharf mural spread across above the entrance to the 113-year-old building, it certainly deserves a second look: the painting was designed and completed in only 24 hours in a marathon session. The most striking artwork, however, is found later, after a brief sign-in process, upstairs in the chapel. The Okuda San Miguel painting on the roof is a psychedelic treasure, the artwork done, again, at breakneck speeds over a period of only a week. In Lee’s words, the mission statement for the church is to have a “space that is safe, a space that is spiritually available for people to come to, and explore their own spiritual self-discovery through the sacrament of using cannabis.” He was quick to add that he was annoyed by the claim that the church “worships cannabis” agreeing with me when I likened the cannabis sacrament to a communion wafer. Most of the work on the church started in July of 2016, the seven to eight-month setup, leading to their spotlight in early 2017 is an excellent testament to the tenacity of the group. It’s a good thing too: one of the possible plans for the property was to turn it into high-income housing or condos, it was only through some convincing that the property was set to remain a church. “It’s a labor of love…” says Molloy “we’re trying to make this work for people to have a place to come to and enjoy if they find a spiritual element to their cannabis use.” Molloy added that there were “many things we could have done with this building and made way way way more money than turning it into a church…the idea that this is some sort of weird business scheme, I don’t know where it is, but if someone can point it out to me, where we can make money on this, I’d do it.” After I had a chance to take more pictures, Lee asked me, almost conspiratorily 

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The chapel of the International Church of Cannabis, as viewed from the baptismal font

if I wanted to see the baptismal font, I eagerly accepted and we headed upstairs. Up in what was basically a hot tub overlooking the chapel, I sat with Lee and chatted about the difficulties of establishing a Cannabis Church, I asked if the city had been helpful in the process: “Helpful is not the word I would use, I would say they haven’t been particularly obstructive. They gave us some serious hoops to jump through…” Serious hoops might even be an understatement, in its formative days, the church dealt with a number of hurdles, including the last minute, quickly overturned push orchestrated by state Representative Dan Pabon, D-Denver to ban cannabis use in churches, a response seen to be directly lin

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A cozy lounge and gift shop is located beneath the chapel

ked to the church’s opening on 4/20, 2017 and the increased national and international media attention following the listing of the church on Google.

 

 

The unifying theme behind these locations and the others that operate around Denver in the current legal limbo came up in my interviews time and time again: cannabis is a social drug, and the primary cause and mission of these organizations are to allow safe, friendly consumption, in a social environment.

 

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