Medical marijuana ministries
It may be a farming community in a sloping valley, a sleepy hamlet in the mountains, or a busy metropolis. Down on the corner, the church bells are ringing, and folks with a host of crippling and life-threatening ailments cane or wheelchair down the block to receive their daily sacrament and medicine? cannabis. The preachers who distribute the sacrament from these churches have had spiritual experiences deeply rooted in life-threatening illnesses and family compassion.
A change in life
When she was a child, Lynnete Shaw lived in Antioch, California. She recalls when she was twelve that the earth, the air and the water all turned brown from the pollution produced by nearby factories, including a DDT manufacturer. At the same time, Shaw became suicidal, began vomitting, and got rashes over her entire body. "I was so miserable that I wanted to die," explained Shaw, "I had that feeling from that time on, until my best friend in high school gave me marijuana when I was 16."
Shaw faced continual persecution for her use of marijuana. She was thrown out of her church, and in 1990 she was beaten, arrested and dropped in jail for 80 days on charges of possession. Her experiences led her to become a hemp activist. At the legendary "Hall of Flowers" meeting in 1991, an early meeting for important medical cannabis activists, Shaw met San Francisco Cannabis Buyers' Club founder Dennis Peron, and famous cannabis-doctor Tod Mikuriya, who took her as a patient. She speaks of Dr Mikuriya as a saviour who got her off of life-threatening, side-effect producing pharmaceutical drugs and fully into cannabis treatment.
After recovering her health, she apprenticed with Dennis Peron, who got her a job at his original buyers club. Her experience with cannabis moved her to the core of her spirit. During a visit to Hawaii where she met Religion of Jesus founder Jim Kimmel, she became a marijuana minister.
"I gained my spiritual health when I gained my physical health," enthused Shaw. "I have lost 80% of my symptoms, and that is a miracle, an absolute miracle. People who knew me ten or fifteen years ago don't recognize me now."
Reverend Dennis Shields of Captain Cooke, Hawaii was also healed by the herb. When his fiance died in a motorcycle accident, he began fishing up and down the coast of the Big Island.
"One day I heard about a bunch of religious people that smoked cannabis and paid them a visit," he recalled. It was the Religion of Jesus Church. Shields joined, received healing from his use of cannabis and connection with the church, and eventually married. A few years later he was struck by tragedy again, and again cannabis helped alleviate the suffering.
"In 1981 my stepson was diagnosed with terminal cancer," recalled Shields. "Two weeks before he had over a hundred stitches in his stomach and was given very powerful chemotherapy treatments. My doctor said, 'Can you get any grass?' I went back to Kona for some Kona Gold, and instead of living for three months, [my stepson] lived for 18 months. He was able to gain weight and be a little more comfortable until he died."
Reverend David Jack also uses cannabis to treat a terminal cancer. He wakes regularly, in the middle of the night, vomiting from a splitting headache caused by a tumour that slowly eats away at his brainstem. A quick hit of cannabis calms the nausea and reduces the headache and soon he is back in bed. Jack has seen the healing powers of cannabis at work before.
"I cared for my brother-in-law who died from AIDS," says Jack, who administered sacrament to the sick and dying at Northern Lights Church in Stockton, California along with Reverends Rick and Sue Garner, before it was raided by police in August 2000.
"We have all watched members of our families die slow and horrible deaths," Jack whispered. "Both Rick and Sue cared for her mother as she became very crippled by a degenerative brain disease and finally died, and also her father as he died from cancer. We found that when you care for someone to the point of dying you really have a religious experience. That is what guided us to form a ministry. Our belief is that this plant will heal, not only human illnesses, but the human spirit and the planet."
Marijuana ministers model themselves after the image of Jesus: they provide medicine for the sick, and they do it despite social prohibitions ? like the ancient Jewish taboo against working on the Sabbath that landed Jesus in hot water with the Pharisees for healing.
Reverend Lynette Shaw created a model legal medical cannabis club in Marin County, California, before Proposition 215 became law. Now that it is law, she is the only holder of a Fairfax City permit to legally distribute medical cannabis from her Marin Cannabis Buyers Club.
"After Proposition 215 became law, Gangsters from all over California were trying to get cannabis buyers clubs to sign contracts with them, to get a monopoly on the action" Reverend Shaw explained. "The city issued us the permit so that we couldn't be forced into signing on with the gangs."
Across the US, cannabis-church ministers are at the heart of medical cannabis initiatives. Reverend Dennis Shields was instrumental in getting medical cannabis and hemp legalized in the state of Hawaii.
"I think historically we find, time and time again, that members of the church have been called to the front where sick and dying people are being treated callously by whatever govenment or social institution is perscecuting them," exclaimed an impassioned Reverend Shields. "I think that the religious life is of compassion, sympathy and ministry to those less fortunate than ourselves."
He has also filed papers to impeach the Big Island County Council for not reviewing the local helicopter eradication program, which saw cops terrorizing farmers, blasting the roofs off greenhouses in dangerously low fly-bys, and peeping at attractive female sunbathers. Thanks to his work, and the work of his fellow reverend, Roger Christie, federal funding for an anti-drug program was sent back for the first time in American history, and the helicopter eradication program was eradicated on July 26.
"For years I testified and raised awareness about the helicopter eradication program," Reverend Shields told Cannabis Culture. "Then, in 1994 a caravan of four-wheel-drive police vehicles came to my home."
Reverend Shields' church was raided and he was arrested. After a lengthy court battle, he was convicted and spent 90 days on a suspended jail term and a year on probation.
Reverend Ray Christal, another Religion of Jesus pastor, was raided in the fall of 1997 after debating a narcotics officer on public access television about medical marijuana just before its legalization in Hawaii. Reverend Chistal ran a church medical cannabis dispensary in Maui, catering to patients with AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, acute pain and hard drug addictions.
"We had a big festival because the Governor said he would legalize hemp for industrial purposes and cannabis for medical use," recounts Christal. "While we were all in the church preparing the food, they raided the building. It was terrorism, to terrify the people back to sleep. When I came out the next day, I continued to sell to medical patients, and they raided me again two months later. I finally agreed to stop, because they were going to revoke my bail and put me in for twenty to life."
Christal cut a deal, plead guilty and got only one year. But the charges had their desired effect? no more public cannabis worship on the island of Maui.
"When my mom was dying of cancer recently, the doctors recommended it to her and she refused to use it," a choked Reverend Christal recalled. "This is the tremendous force of what the authorities did with reefer madness, a terrible tragedy. It is the antithesis of what Jesus or Krishna or any love figure reprsents, this prohibition. You could very easily recognize a very living demon in the subject."
Every seed-bearing plant
Others who feel driven by God to provide healing to the sick have faced similar trials. Robert Schmidt dropped out of Marin Christian Life Bible College in 1987, after he and a friend were "slain in the spirit" and Schmidt received a message from God that eventually propelled him to open Genesis 1:29. Genesis 1:29 is a medical cannabis buyers club in Sonoma County, California named after the biblical passage in which God says, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the Earth."
"Being slain in the spirit, it took out the organ player," enthused Schmidt. "It was like awesome. I couldn't talk for quite a while. We just looked at each other and smiled. We had a vision, and everytime we tried to talk about it we would start talking in tongues, and then we started laughing. We were glowing, and everyone in the church wanted to touch us."
Soon after proposition 215 became law, Schmidt was busted.
"I was arrested 40 hours after the law changed," recalled Schmidt. "I had 12 little plants. Then I started firing paperwork everywhere. Now I walk around with a briefcase full of paperwork. Forty-five months later we are still operating."
Desecrating the temple
For some, the concept of medical sacrament is ridiculous.
"My personal feeling is that it is just a hoax, a scam," Robert LaCasse told Cannabis Culture. "They are people who use drugs and they are trying to find a way to use drugs without getting into trouble."
LaCasse was referring specifically to the Northern Lights Church. LaCasse wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, and some say he circulated a petition to have Northern Lights shut down. Reverend David Jack believes that a volatile combination of an unfriendly neighbour, unscrupulous law enforcement officials, and high-profile activism may have ultimately resulted in the raid.
In Stockton, Reverend David Jack worked out a set of guidelines for distributing medical cannabis with the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors, which eventually set a limit of 30 plants and four pounds per grower. He then informed the county that they would be growing cannabis for medical purposes. Police Chief Bill Nuttal decided to raid the church anyway. On August 2, 2000, a SWAT team decended upon the holy temple, dragging Reverend Sue out of the church in her underwear and T-shirt to lie face-down on the pavement beside her husband.
"[Reverends Sue and Rick] have been terrorized badly," said Reverend Jack. "They've had M-16's held to the back of their heads, and to the back of their 15 year old son's head. The police came in and they took our registration for ministry from our mother church, the Universal Life Church, which has more than 18 million people. They took Reverend Sue and Rick's registration papers from behind the glass. They took our computer and all of our quarterly reports, membership reports. I have a masters in social work, and they took notes from a couple that I was counselling with. They also show, on their warrant, that they confiscated 18 Proposition 215 physicians' recommendations. Now they've been calling our patients and harrassing them."
There have been no charges placed against any of the Northern Lights Church's members or reverends, but all of their medical and sacramental cannabis has been destroyed. Many of the church's members, ill and near death, are now without medicine. Despite setbacks, the Northern Lights Church has gathered five affiliate churches who provide a ministry of sacramental and medical cannabis use across California.
Like many who minister cannabis medicines to their congregations, Reverend David Jack is a member of the American Medical Marijuana Association (AMMA). Reverend Jack worked with Steve Kubby ? a former pro-pot candidate for governor of California ? from the very inception of the AMMA, and now acts as its Northern California Regional Director. Robert Schmidt of Genesis 1:29 is also a leading member of the AMMA, acting as their Sonoma County director. Johnathan Stahl, who founded the Church of the Living Tree, an organization that distributes medical cannabis to its congregation and makes hemp paper from the left-over fibres, is the AMMA's director for California's Sonoma County.
"The AMMA is an umbrella organization to fascilitate communication among people involved in this issue," Stahl explains. "There are some counties in which the local sheriffs and DA's are acting like they are personally responsible for creating the laws, and they are taking into their own hands powers that are not approporiate for them to use. The AMMA is fighting this abuse of power. They have even suggested war crimes tribunals once the drug war is over, for those who defied the will of the people and the law of the land."
Stahl sees churches as playing a pivotal role in an illegal war against the people. "Churches have always provided sanctuary for victims of political abuse of power, and this is one sense in which churches can fill the gap, by providing needed sanctuary for people whose personal rights are being abused."
The devil's pitchfork
Obscure and rarely quoted case law has set precedents for legal sacramental marijuana use. Reverend James D Kimmel, a Master of Science with a special focus on botany and the founder of the Religion of Jesus, has kept aware of legal developments since he was arrested for allegedly buying cannabis from kids at the highschool where he taught classes in 1968.
"They had a young girl try to bring marijuana to me, but she flaked out and never delivered anything, so when they busted me I had nothing on me. They framed me with a roach, which they said they saw me throw on the ground beside me. According to them, I was under the influence, which is a misdemeanor; I was in possession, which is a felony; and I was conspiring to use minors to transport, which is also a felony."
After his arrest, he had a revelation as a consequence of "finishing Einstein's Unified Field Theory" ? resolving it as one equals infinity, a mathematical metaphor for the buddhist attainment of being "one with everything." He went from being an atheist to being a theist, read a holy text called "Urantia", and discovered a belief in cannabis as a holy sacrament. The courts were eventually stymied by his constutional appeal to freedom of religion, which resulted in a hung jury? ten wanted to send him away, but two refused to convict. Still, it took three years to drop the charges, during which he was busted for growing in Sonoma County.
He appealed to the California Supreme Court, but by that time, Kimmel says, they had made it too difficult to use religion as a defence. He lost his second court battle and lost his job as a teacher, but spent no time in jail.
Since Reverend Kimmel's trials, there have been two significant court rulings regarding sacramental use. Reverend Dennis Shields, who was arrested after testifying against the helicopter eradication program, explained that in April of 1997, a 9th Circuit court in Hawaii ruled (in The State vs Blake) that churches must comply with a three-pronged test for cannabis use to be considered legal. A 1997 case in California, The People vs Trippit, reconfirmed the courts' willingness to rely on the three-pronged test.
"First, the religion needs to be genuine," said Shields. "Second, the use and practices have to be sincere. And third, the use of cannabis must not be optional for the church's members. Blake was a tantric buddhist, and the judge ruled that he wasn't sincere because cannabis use was optional in his religion, and he could avoid it with due conscience."
Reverend Shields was also stung by the three-pronged devil's pitchfork? Religion of Jesus members weren't officially required to use marijuana, and so he was convicted. Shortly thereafter, Religion of Jesus leader Reverend Kimmel declared cannabis use to be mandatory for all members.
A common red thread
Cannabis churches across North America are suprisingly similar. Many of them, like the Northern Lights Church, The Church of the Universe (see CC#9, Supreme Court vs Supreme Being & #10, ) and the Religion of Jesus, originally received their charters from the Universal Life Church before setting out on their own. The Universal Life Church has over 18 million members and does not promote or deny the benefits of cannabis use.
Rereadings of the bible figure prominently among cannabis clergy. As with any religion, theology informs interpretation. The most common theological thread for sacramental cannabis users is that cannabis actually appears several times in the bible, mistranslated as "calamus" (check your concordance for occurances of this word).
"In the Bible, Jesus dissappears from his mother and then he reappears at Canna, a Roman town," said Robert Schmidt of Genesis 1:29. "'Canna' is a root word [for Cannabis], and you find out that they made medicine and clothing there, and Mary is visiting wealthy relatives there, so they were obviously in the business. At the wedding feast, Mary asked Jesus to turn water into wine. Obvious he took warm water, ran it through the herb [cannabis] and made tea."
Works like the Urantia book and OAHSPE (a holy text for members of the sacramental cannabis using "Children of the World Foundation" - see CC#27, Sacramental Cannabis Sects) also figure prominently in marijuana ministries. Both of these books appeared within a hundred-year span; OAHSPE in 1881 and Urantia in 1955. Both manifested through a mystical source. The Urantia book appeared in a locked safe, chapter by chapter, to the stupification of masters like Houdini, who was called in to debunk the phenomenon. The OAHSPE text was channeled by John Newbrough. Both of these works tell the missing histories of various religions, including Christianity.
"In the Urantia book," says Religion of Jesus founder James Kimmel, "Jesus travelled with a caravan that went from Damascus to the Caspian sea, and I can't imagine people travelling that route without having a little cannabis to smoke around the campfire at night."
Both Urantia and OAHSPE include several references to hemp used for cloth, rope and other purposes. Both of these works also include exhortations to seek God within and declarations of personal freedoms, a common tenant for psychedelic spiritualists.
"During Jesus' journey to the Caspian Sea," explains Kimmel, "he stopped at lake Urmia in Northern Iran, and he delivered twenty-four lectures on the brotherhood of man. In these lectures Jesus tells us that the Lord gave us the power to choose, and when they make laws saying we can't choose this or that, it is inherently illegal."
Cannabis churches everywhere minister to the sick, with the belief that Jesus also used cannabis to perform healing miracles.
"Distributing medical marijuana is a natural consequence of our spiritual inheritance," Reverend Kimmel edified. "You become responsible for what you know. Just because someone says it's not medicine doesn't mean people don't need someone to deliver this plant and heal them."
In addition to the Religion of Jesus, The Church of the Living Tree and the Northern Lights Church, the Church of the Universe, based in Ontario, Canada also provides marijuana medicine to those in need. Famous cannabis activist Chris Conrad, whose book "Hemp, Lifeline to the Future" made international headlines in the mid-90's, also started a religion known as "Cantheism". A part of the Canthiest creed reads: "I believe that the Cannabis plant is endowed with important healing powers, some of which cannot yet be explained. Therefore I shall offer it to ease the suffering of others."
Maybe it is cannabis ministers' honest dedication to healing ministries in the face of possible busts and jail time that convince the masses of their authenticity. Like the Christians of Roman times, oppression has served to do little but popularize their cause.
With roots in the very baptism of marijuana activism in the 60's, cannabis churches today are growing stronger and more numerous in membership every day. People are discovering that the healing power of cannabis goes much deeper than flesh and bone. Now human society is at a junction. Will freedom of religion guarantees ? as enshrined in the constitutions of most western countries ? be enough to protect sacramental cannabis users from unjust laws? Or will we be fed to the lions?
? Northern Lights Church: P.O. Box 518, San Andreas, CA 95249; www.northernlightschurch.org
? Genesis 1:29: (707) 789-0527; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.northernlightschurch.org
? Religion of Jesus Church, Reverend Dennis Shields: PO Box 828 Kaawaloa Hawaii, 96704; tel (808) 328-9794; email@example.com; www.hialoha.com/konagold/church/
? Church of the Living Tree: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.tree.org
? Cantheism: www.chrisconrad.com
? American Medical Marijuana Association: Monarch Bay Plaza, Box 375, Dana Point, CA 92629; www.drugsense.org/amma