Clergymen are supposed to be honest. So when cops stopped David Cook for speeding two months ago near Nellis and Lake Mead and asked if he had any contraband, the reverend was forthright. “I told them about the cannabis,” says Cook, who had less than an ounce of the drug and was handcuffed. “But in the same breath, I told them cannabis was part of my religion. They told me it didn’t matter.”
On October 29, Cook will be in municipal court, facing a $300 fine and mandatory drug classes and community service if convicted of misdemeanor possession. “After the cops let me go,” he says, “they told me they respected my religion. If they respected my religion, I wouldn’t be in court.”
Welcome to the cantheist’s plight. Believers in the “inherent goodness of marijuana,” cantheists say cannabis allows direct communication with a higher power. The Cantheist Creed states that the “cultivation and dissemination of cannabis are honorable professions.” They’re seeking legal cover to puff and proselytize.
More than a year ago, Cook joined THC Ministry of Nevada, started by Jack Roberto as a local branch of Hawaii-based cantheists. (THC is the acronym for tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s main psychoactive substance.) “I’ve been a cantheist since I tried cannabis at age 20,” says Cook, who’s 21.
He and Roberto can cite a litany of religious texts purportedly extolling cannabis’ virtues and reams of case law on using controlled substances for religious purposes. They’re relying on the Constitution (freedom of religion) and state law (Nevada Revised Statute 453.541 permits “sacramental use of peyote when such drug is used as the sacrament in religious rites of any bona fide religious organization”).
“These various legal references ... give us a very strong case,” says Roberto, who was born Catholic and was an atheist for five years before he says cannabis lifted him to a higher spiritual plane.
Given recent rulings on marijuana possession, they may need a consolation blunt. Federal authorities have arrested licensed medical-marijuana providers in states like Nevada. Last month, the Hawaii Supreme Court struck down cantheist Joseph Sutherland’s argument that marijuana is a religious sacrament. Roberto says national marijuana-advocacy groups have given them the cold shoulder, “because they don’t want anything to do with anything religious.” Cook sought a lawyer to take the case. No one bit.
Even with a public defender, he’s confident. The law and a higher power are on his side: “Many people will say this is just some stoners trying to get high, but the truth is that the THC in cannabis not only allows open communication to the divine within, but it also appears that from recent research cannabis is successful in the treatment of several mental illnesses.”