The Church of Cannabis vs. the City: A Battle for Religious Freedom and Public Space

The International Church of Cannabis in Denver, Colorado, is currently embroiled in a dispute with the city over a statue that the church says represents religious freedom and is used for meditation by its weed-smoking congregants. The city, however, says the sculpture, named Public Defender, is an encroachment on the public right of way and must be removed.

The church’s co-founder, Steve Berke, argues that the sculpture is central to the church’s religion and a representation of the freedom of religion that all Americans should have. He also claims that the city is infringing on the church’s First Amendment rights and passing unnecessary laws that don’t protect anyone.

The city initially allowed the sculpture to remain in place after a city inspector reviewed it in September and didn’t immediately raise any issues. However, months later, the city demanded that the church apply for a permit within 10 days to keep the statue in place. Berke says that ten days is not enough time to receive a land use survey and engineer’s study, which the church needs to apply for a permit.

The city later said that even if the Church of Cannabis applied for a permit, it wouldn’t be approved because the sculpture as installed does not meet minimum placement, height, and vehicle sight line criteria of the Encroachment Rules & Regulations. The church’s neighbors have also complained that the statue blocks visibility at the corner.

Berke maintains that the church’s fight to keep the statue is a fight for religious freedom. The church’s congregants regularly gather around the sculpture for a 42-second meditation reflecting on how to achieve a better version of self, an important ritual for the church.

The Church of Cannabis, whose only religious tenet is the golden rule, is rated as one of the top attractions in Denver, according to Tripadvisor. Berke claims that the church stimulates the local economy and brings thousands of tourists to the area as well as surrounding shops and restaurants.

Colorado was one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, and Denver decriminalized magic mushrooms in 2019. Despite this, Berke says that the city’s liberal government is not welcoming to the Church of Cannabis and its cool new religion that is welcoming and stimulating the economy.

The dispute between the city and the Church of Cannabis raises important questions about religious freedom, public space, and the role of government in regulating religious practices. While the church may see the sculpture as an important symbol of its religion and a representation of the freedom of religion, the city has a responsibility to ensure that public space is safe and accessible for all.

It remains to be seen how the dispute will be resolved, but one thing is clear: the Church of Cannabis sees itself as fighting for religious freedom, and the city sees itself as enforcing necessary regulations to protect the public. The resolution of this dispute will have implications not only for the Church of Cannabis but for religious communities across the country. (Source)

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