Church owner Steve Berke, middle, stands for a portrait with other founders of the Elevationists on April 11, 2017 inside the International Church of Cannabis at 400 S. Logan St. in Denver, Colorado. (L-R): Alec Rubin, Adam Mutchler, Angie Hargot, Steve Berke, Briley Hale, Dave Bogue and Lee Molloy. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Following the paper trail of The International Church of Cannabis

Public records detail the genesis of Elevation Ministries as it opens its doors for a new spiritual movement

Elevationism doesn’t resemble traditional religious practices, and its formation and structure are even less orthodox. The group’s paper trail reveals a nonprofit entangled with a publicly traded company run by founding member Steve Berke and a trust operated by his parents.

The International Church of Cannabis opens its doors on April 20, the unofficial annual marijuana holiday. The renovated church at 400 S. Logan St. is the headquarters of Elevation Ministries, a newly formed Colorado nonprofit religious organization that claims cannabis as its primary sacrament.

Related: This new cannabis church pushes limits of Denver’s social-use pot law

Bang Holdings Corp. incorporated in Colorado on May 13, 2014, according to public records. It lists two subsidiaries: Bang Digital Media, providing brand management, cannabis-related digital content and influencer-based marketing for the cannabis industry; and Bang Vapor, an internet e-liquid retailer. The company went public March 8, 2016, trading over the counter under the ticker BXNG.

On July 27, 2015, the church building, at 400 S. Logan St., was purchased by a trust operated by Berke’s parents, William and Alam Berke, for $1,067,000, according to records accessed via the Denver Property and Assessment System.

International Church of Cannabis
This is a photo of the exterior of the International Church of Cannabis at 400 S. Logan St. on April 12, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. The graffiti style murals on the outside of the church were done by well-known graffiti artist Kenny Scharf. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Elevation Ministries said it took occupancy of the building in July paying an undisclosed amount of rent. On Sept. 16, Elevation Ministries registered as a nonprofit corporation in Colorado. The registered agent and incorporator is Adam Mutchler, according to public filings. Mutchler is listed as chief financial officer of Bang Digital Media, according to its website.

On March 22, Elevation Ministries was granted a zoning permit for public and religious assembly at the building. The applicant was Mutchler, and the permit included one rectory/dwelling unit, media services, and book and gift counter.

That same day, Bang Digital Media announced in a news release that it had been awarded a two-year, $250,000 licensing and management contract from an unnamed Colorado-based cannabis company. The release stated that performance bonuses could be worth up to $1 million.

The identity of the Colorado-based cannabis company was revealed as Elevation Ministries in a Monday filing that Bang Holdings was required to make with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It included a services agreement with Elevation Ministries dated March 20 that outlines a contract for the company to provide social media management and content creation for Elevation Ministries for a two-year period at a fixed fee of $10,000 per month with additional compensation to be determined monthly based on a fee of $10 per 1,000 “views and impressions.”

Since its inception, Bang Holdings has generated minimal revenue — the company recorded $255 and $576 in sales for 2016 and 2015, respectively — and accumulated a deficit of $3.6 million, according to the filing. For 2016, the company reported an operating loss of under $1.1 million, down from $1.4 million in 2015. Bang Holdings incurred a net loss of $1.2 million for 2016, down from $1.7 million. The decreases in operating expenses and net losses were attributed to lower sales, marketing, general and administrative expenses, company officials said in the filing.

The company had just shy of $245,000 in cash and cash equivalents at the end of 2016.

The financial position to-date raises “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue operating for the foreseeable future, according to accountants for Liggett & Webb P.A., Bang Holdings’ independent accounting firm, which issued a “going concern” warning, according to SEC filings.

Company officials said their strategic plan — which includes the International Church of Cannabis launch, the development of an automated digital advertising platform, pursuit of new customers and the raising of additional capital — would allow for the company to continue operating into the future.

Cannabist staff writer Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.