All Hail The Chronic: Introducing Bizarre Pot Churches

Prepare ye, the way of the chronic.

Welcome to the age of marijuana-laden church services, where stoners gather to worship God by getting high, according to California Healthline.

“Breathe deep and blow harder," Pastor Grant Atwell tells those in his congregation as he passes out marijuana joints. “Nail the insight down, whether you get it from marijuana or prayer. Consider what in your own life you are thankful for.”

“Thank you, God, for the weed,” responds a middle-aged man. “I’m thankful for the spirit of cannabis,” says one woman. “I am grateful to be alive,” says another.

Though the church adopts some Christian symbolism and phrases, their beliefs stand more in line with Unitarian Universalists than anything else, describing itself as a "Rastafarian church."

"Rastafari is a political and religious movement that originated in Jamaica," notes California Healthline. "Combining elements of Christianity, pan-Africanism and mysticism, the movement has no central authority. Adherents use marijuana in their rituals."

Throughout California, such "Rastafari" churches have popped up in Oakland, Roseville, Modesto, San Diego County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. Similar churches have opened in Indiana, Michigan, and Colorado.

In states where marijuana is still illegal, congregants argue the same "court rulings that made it possible for some groups, including Native Americans, to use federally banned drugs like peyote in their religious ceremonies" allow them to smoke pot as a sacrament. A coalition of Native American churches has disavowed such "Rastafari" churches in response.

“Marijuana churches have brought religious liberty claims for years, and they have always lost,” says Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor specializing in religious liberty issues. “Marijuana is a huge recreational drug, and a religious exception … would make enforcement nearly impossible. So the courts have always found a compelling government interest in marijuana enforcement.”

That may be subject to change, however, as more states legalize marijuana.

“Legalization changes everything,” he said. “Religious use may not violate state law in some of these states. And if it does, legalizing recreational use but not religious use clearly discriminates against religion.”

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