Are Weed Churches Legitimate Houses of Worship, or Just Another Way Around Marijuana Law?
Hundred Harmonies’ Sunday Morning offers something a little different than sacramental wine. Jessica Lehrman for RollingStone.com
Organizations holding religious services claim they should be able to sell pot as “sacrament” — others say it’s an excuse to run unlicensed dispensaries
When I arrived for Sunday services at the Hundred Harmonies Church near Los Angeles, on a chilly morning last November, I was immediately handed a joint, a lighter and a bottle of water. In a small exurban storefront guarded by a security guard holding an AR-15, about 15 parishioners were toking up, eating powdered donuts and watching the final scenes of Orson Wells’ 1960 film David and Goliath on a mounted flat-screen. A whiteboard listed the day’s agenda (“SAMUEL 17”) above the message “God ♥s you!”. The Rev. James Young Phan, an energetic minister dressed in a black tie and black suspenders, offered running commentary during the film. After it ended, he began talking about Martin Luther.
Weed businesses that don’t pay taxes or that don’t have state licenses are a major problem in California — in 2018, the first year of regulated medical and adult-use sales, the state took only a third of what it had projected in marijuana tax revenue: $345 million instead of $1 billion. Now that dozens of marijuana businesses are now claiming to be churches — and therefore exempt from paying taxes — the state government is concerned. Yet as Phan tells me after services, “You shouldn’t be able to tax the sacrament.”
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News