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.
Source: Donita Naylor
Journal Staff Writer