If you know just one thing about Colorado Springs, it's probably that we're a mecca for organized religion. Indeed, renowned evangelical behemoths like Focus on the Family and New Life Church make a home here, as do nearly 800 congregations of all orientations and sizes, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. This community's commitment to religious liberty is so unequivocal that it should bring no controversy to introduce a newcomer that's making history as the first Rastafari church in a state where its traditional sacrament — marijuana — is legal for adult use.
Regular readers may already be familiar with One Love Club (212 S. 21st St.) which opened up last summer as a private, members-only establishment that lets adults partake of their constitutional right to consume cannabis together (aka., a cannabis club). But then, in dramatic fashion, the reggae show marking One Love's grand opening got shut down over a fire code violation before the headliner ever took the stage. That was October 2015.
After that got straightened out, operations went smoothly for a couple months until City Council voted to outright ban cannabis clubs. In an assessment club owners unsurprisingly disputed, councilors argued the clubs' business model defies the municipal prohibition of recreational sales. The dispute has evolved into two legal actions: one in which club owners sued the city over the ban's constitutionality; and one in which the city's trying to shut down clubs operating without the "sunset period" business license.
A hearing scheduled for Friday was postponed at the last minute, again, so One Love owner Heather Hart sat down with the Indy to explain that the club's new direction as a church is really nothing new at all.
"As soon as we opened up, this was a gathering place for Rastas," she said. "'Cannabis club' is the label that stuck on us, so we just went with it, you know, but we always intended, and always were, a community center for spreading the word of peace and unity."
Popularly associated with the green, gold and red of the Ethiopian flag, Rastafari is an Abrahamic tradition that developed in mid-century Jamaica and has since spread internationally. As with any faith, the particulars vary but generally, adherents believe in a triune deity, Jah, shortened from the Biblical 'Yahweh,' that's incarnate in all people.
"We're one people, one world, one love," Hart explains, "Which basically means we're all in this together. So the biggest thing for us is conscious living — being conscious of your brothers and sisters, of mother nature and so making decisions to do the right thing."
Famously, ganja is part of the practice. Per tradition, the "wisdom weed" gets passed around during reasoning sessions (when one, two or several people take time to ruminate on spiritual, ethical and social questions) and groundations (when the congregation comes together in celebration). "It's like praying or a sermon, but a bit more social," Hart says, adding that there'll be more literature stocking the shelves and more educational seminars led by the resident elder in addition to all the regular yoga classes, drum circles and reggae shows that already go on at One Love.
Recognition as a tax-exempt religious nonprofit is in the works, according to attorney Adam Wietzel who represents a number of local churches, esoteric and mainstream, including One Love. He's confident in his client's filing to the IRS because written into its organizational charter is a deeply held belief in some higher power, an established place of worship and commitment to regular gatherings. "People get all hung up on, 'oh well, this church isn't our church,'" he says of his experience defending such organizations in court, "but that's not what it's about. Thomas Jefferson set the stage for natural law, meaning the state doesn't dictate what church you belong to. We're all entitled to our own beliefs in this country."
In other states, several organizations have sought protection for cannabis use as religious sacrament without success given the plant's federally illegal status. There's no record of any such attempts in Colorado where recreational cannabis is now legal, so One Love could well be the first place of worship in the country where passing the wisdom weed won't lead to any trouble.
"This isn't about trying to get out of anything," Hart says, "but hopefully it might change how the city sees the cannabis community because this is all we do and it's not harming anyone. ... Like any other church in the city, we're open to anyone who wants to come join us."