Pubdate: Wed, 06 May 2015
Source: Providence Journal, The (RI)
Copyright: 2015 The Providence Journal Company
Author: Donita Naylor
Bookmark: (Spiritual or Sacramental)


PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A church that meets in a West Greenwich home and 
uses cannabis in its services has obtained a permit from the National 
Park Service to conduct a religious service at the Roger Williams 
National Memorial, a site chosen for its significance to the idea of 
religious freedom.

Cannabis activists Anne Armstrong and Alan Gordon, representatives of 
The Healing Church, applied for a permit for a 45-minute Celebration 
of Holy Fire at 8 p.m. on May 23 for about 100 people on the small 
federal property at 282 North Main St.

Gordon, who doesn't use the word marijuana, which he says was 
introduced "to stir up ethnic, religious and racial prejudices of the 
enfranchised white power structure," said the service will include 
cannabis in three forms: an anointing oil made according to the 
formula given in Exodus 30:23, using cannabis where the Torah calls 
for Kaneh-bosm, which some Christian Bibles have translated as 
calamus, a kind of reed; a fermented milk-and-honey-and-cannabis 
drink; and smoked or vaporized cannabis.

Jennifer Smith, site manager for the national property, on Tuesday 
said the permit allows the group to assemble, but, as her April 22 
cover letter that accompanied the permit stated, "does not grant 
permission to undertake any activity that may violate applicable 
federal, state or municipal laws or regulations. This includes the 
Controlled Substances Act, and the laws of the state of Rhode Island 
governing the possession and use of controlled substances, and 36 
C.F.R 2.35, which prohibits the illegal possession or delivery of 
controlled substances within the National Park System."

Smith said that as part of the group's First Amendment exercise, 
"they can raise awareness of their cause, their church, what they're 
trying to do," they can have signs and literature, and they can 
"speak out about their positions regarding the issue."

Armstrong and Gordon, who are among the residents of 99 Hudson Pond 
Rd., West Greenwich, where the church meets and where Armstrong has 
her practice, The Healing Center, said their right to use cannabis in 
a religious service is protected by the First Amendment, which 
overrides any other laws.

"The Constitution clearly says Congress may make no law impeding the 
free exercise of religion," said Gordon, who identifies himself as a 
member of the New England Cannabist Anti-Discrimination Taskforce.

Both are prepared to risk arrest on May 23, which was chosen because 
it's both the Hebrew holiday of Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks, the 
commemoration of God's giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on 
Mount Sinai, and, for Christians, it's the eve of Pentecost, which 
celebrates the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles at the end of 
the Easter season. Armstrong and Gordon call themselves 
Judeo-Christian "cannabists."

Smith said she has not discussed whether federal law enforcement will 
be called in, saying she focused first on getting the permit in place.

Obtaining the permit, Gordon said, "is a recognition of our right to 
use cannabis ... with the implied constitutional loophole in there."

"The bottom line," Armstrong said Tuesday, "they're permitting our 
service. They know that our service includes cannabis."

The application describes the proposed activity as: "A Celebration of 
Holy Fire. At Sundown on Erev Shavuot (Pentecost Eve) The Healing 
Church will conduct a prayer service which will last approximately 45 
minutes and include the sacrament. "

The application, filled out by hand, said the service would include 
the "use and distribution of KNH BSM," which is the Hebrew vowel-less 
way of writing Kaneh-Bos, and then the word written in Hebrew 
letters, followed by, "(Cannabis sativa) as described in the ancient 

People who go regularly to The Healing Church believe that the 
cannabis plant is a gift from God and not an item for trade, 
Armstrong said. "If a person can receive that with reverence and 
thanksgiving, we can share our sacred matter with them."

Gordon said the cannabis will be shared only with people they know 
and in small amounts. "Nobody's going to be falling down," he said. 
"People who are watching wouldn't be able to observe any difference 
in our behavior."

Armstrong, who is a deaconness and evangelist in the church, said she 
will officiate. She said they will be "concelebrating with our 
Rastafarian brothers, who have held this plant to be sacred since 
King Solomon's time."

She said people from the First Cannabis Church of Eugene, Ore., and 
other cannabis-using churches in Alabama and Utah had said they 
planned to attend.

Armstrong ran for governor last year as a write-in candidate from the 
R.I. Compassion Party and enjoyed a brief notoriety in September when 
her YouTube campaign ad, which ended with her smoking pot, came to 
national attention.

"If someone feels the need to arrest me for practicing my religion in 
public," she said, she would feel "like Daniel in the lion's den."

Her reference was to an Old Testament story about a Hebrew who 
refused to give up his religious convictions and was thrown to the 
lions, who, to the king's surprise, did not harm him.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom