Denver’s International Church of Cannabis made headlines across the country in the lead up to this year’s 4/20 holiday. The place of worship billed itself as a the home for cannabis as a holy sacrament, inviting guests into their privately run church to experience community, art, food, and circumnavigate the city’s social consumption laws. But while it may have appeared that the Church’s celebration went off without a hitch, a new report says Denver cops went undercover at the April event, and wrote up citations for three of the group’s leaders.
According to Denver’s local ABC affiliate, members say that two plain clothes cops used fake names to get themselves on the guest list, while another used the commotion of the holiday to get past the event’s door woman, the 72 year-old mother of church founder Steve Berke.
“It seems like religious persecution, like the city attorney has a vendetta,” Berke said. “If you go to a wedding, that doesn’t make the wedding a public event, it makes you a wedding crasher.”
Despite the event being invitation-only, Denver City Attorney Marley Bordovsky still plans to pursue the cases, claiming the invitation broke the city’s public smoking regulations and Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act. The officers didn’t make their presence known until after the event, when they served Berke and two other church founders multiple citations.
“It clearly wasn’t a truly-private event—that was the test,” Bordovsky said. “Whether a venue is public or private is a case-by-case analysis of whether it’s private or not. If the police officers walked up to the door and nobody let them in, they would have left. The decision was made that this location and the events going on inside were public.”
Berke and his fellow practitioners claim that cannabis is part of their religion and should therefore be allowed as part of their private worship, but Denver city officials say there is no way to get around the public smoking ordinance, pews and prayer books or not.
For Berke though, the citations feel like a personal attack more than a public safety concern. While three of the group’s founding members were cited, none of the other 400 church members who were present for the 4/20 celebration were given as much as a dirty look from the undercover officers. One of the founders who was cited even says that he never even smoked that day, making the public consumption citation even more ludicrous.
Berke says that he and his fellow members have secured legal counsel to fight the charges, and are “considering legal options” that include suing the city for the intrusion.
As of now, the International Church of Cannabis is still holding members-only events and services with plenty of holy sacrament consumption. Berke and the other two cited founders will go to an initial court date for the citations next week.