Pubdate: Sat, 05 Feb 2005
Source: Peoria Journal Star (IL)
Copyright: 2005sPeoria Journal Star
Author: Michael Miller
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Joe Johnson of East Peoria said he was being "prosecuted" for his religious 

Didn't he mean persecuted? I asked.

Both, he said.

Definitely prosecuted. Johnson, who lives in an apartment in Woodview 
Commons at Illinois Central College, said he was pulled over for speeding 
last fall near the ICC campus on Centennial Drive. As police searched his 
car, he volunteered the information that the officer would probably find 
something in his car, such as, well, marijuana.

But, Johnson told the officer, he's an ordained minister with a cannabis 
ministry in which marijuana is used as a "sacrament."

"I run the church out of my residence," he said. He argued to the police 
that his possession of pot is protected under religious freedom laws.

The arresting officer told Johnson to "take it up with the judge," which he 
will do early next month in Tazewell County Circuit Court, the East Peorian 

Johnson's group is called the Church of Khidr, named after a legendary 
figure popular in Sufism, a mystic branch of Islam. Johnson's ministerial 
credentials are from the Universal Life Church, which offers free, instant 
ordinations online.

Johnson, 20, said his 2-month-old church, which includes himself and two 
others, uses cannabis - Johnson said the term "marijuana" is a government 
word - as a ritual sacrament, not unlike the Rastafarian religion.

The method of ingestion is up to the worshippers.

"I prefer cooking with it, but that's basically open to members of the 
congregation," he said. "I use it as a sacrament to bring people to the 
church so we can discuss religion.

"A sacrament is something used to bring followers of similar beliefs 
together in order for them to sit on down and talk religion," he said. 
"That's what friars did and monks did. That's what we use herb for, to 
bring people of similar interests together. We just use herb as a way to go 
ahead and get people to spike their interest."

Johnson's practice has definitely spiked the interest of his landlord, 
Century Development, which manages the new student apartments. The pot 
preacher and a Century spokesman disagree about the reason and legality of 
a recent search of Johnson's apartment by housing staff.

ICC's John Avendano, vice president for academic affairs and student 
development and services, said Woodview Commons isn't owned by ICC. The 
college would have something to say about Johnson's activities only if it 
crossed onto school property, Avendano said.

Johnson has affiliated his organization with Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, an 
activist group trying to get use of marijuana legalized for religious uses. 
The group offers a "Cannabis Sanctuary Kit" and "Legal Defense Package" at 
its Web site,

Johnson said that while proponents of ritual cannabis usage claim support 
in Jewish and Christian scriptures, his approach to religion is more along 
the lines of Eastern mysticism and spiritualism, as well as agnostic and 
Sufi teachings.

"I believe it brings me closer to God as it allows me to feel that 

connection," Johnson said. "The use of cannabis brings about similar states 
of mind and altered states of consciousness that can be achieved through 
meditation as well."

He said he didn't establish the church as a cover for people who want to 
get stoned legally. He admitted, though, that marijuana can be addictive.

"I believe anything can be addictive," he said. "It depends on the person's 
mentality. People who are addicted most likely aren't using it for 
spiritual purposes."

But that doesn't get in the way of his belief it should be free to use in a 
ritual manner.

"By teaching responsibility and all that, we're trying to make people more 
open-minded and tolerant of people's actions," Johnson said.