The interior of the International Church of Cannabis at 400 S Logan St on April 11, 2017. A last-minute addition to a broader Colorado marijuana bill is seen as targeting the new church. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Pot church ban amendment rejected by Colorado House

Last-minute addition to a broader marijuana bill seen as targeting Denver's new International Church of Cannabis

The Colorado House on Thursday rejected a last-minute attempt to ban pot use in churches, an amendment that was introduced on the same day the controversial International Church of Cannabis opened in Denver.

Proposed by state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, the amendment to a broader bill on pot use would have barred pot use in churches, while still allowing exceptions for religious purposes. Pabon argued it was needed to protect Colorado’s reputation, after the International Church of Cannabis made national news.

“If that’s the road in which we’re going, it’s shameful to me that that’s what the people of Colorado … the people around the world right now think that’s what the laws allow,” Pabon said.

But the last-ditch attempt, which came just before the House was set to vote for the measure on final passage, was blasted by members of both parties as an unconstitutional restriction on religion, and was rejected via procedural move before it could even be put to a vote.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, ridiculed the amendment as a “nanny state” approach to governing.

“This is saying to people ‘we don’t like the way you worship,'” Salazar said. “Now do I agree with the way they’re worshiping? I don’t really think it’s relevant whether I agree or not.”

Steve Berke, a founding member of The International Church of Cannabis, said the amendment targeted them and slammed it as “religious persecution.”

“It’s unconstitutional,” he said. “Whoever proposed this should be embarrassed.”

The church’s legal counsel, Christian Sederberg of Denver marijuana law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, said he was glad legislators were talking about the issues raised by the opening of the church, but the amendment was not appropriate.

The bill debated Thursday originally would have made Colorado the first state to regulate marijuana use in pot clubs. But after Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to veto the measure, the latest version backs off of that goal, leaving Colorado with a patchwork of local regulations on the subject.

The pared-back version passed 35-30, without the ban on churches. It now heads back to the Senate, which must agree to the House version or send it to conference committee before it can be sent to the governor.

Attorney Sederberg said removal of pot club language from the bill brought lawmakers together, and he was pleased to see it move out of the House without the proposed amendment.

“If this bill makes it through the Senate, it would provide a statewide definition of ‘open and public consumption,'” he said. “That’s something we’ve been trying to accomplish going back to December 2012 and the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force.”

The Cannabist Editor Alex Pasquariello contributed to this report.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com