By now most of us have heard of Rastafarianism and the role that marijuana plays as a sacrament to its adherents. Even without a cultural context, the iconic rastacap and dreadlocks sported by Rastas have become synonymous with cannabis culture. There are plenty of other religions that pay tribute to the sweet leaf, too, of course. In our Winter 2019 edition of the Cannabis Manual, we talked about the deep ties marijuana has to Hinduism. The legendary Assassins of Alamut—an infamous esoteric group of Islamic heretics—were given their epithet (“Hashashin”) presumably from the Arabic hashishi, meaning “hashish eaters” or “hashish users.” Its use as a religious sacrament can even be found as far back as far as the ninth century BCE by the Scythians—an ancient nomadic culture that lived in the central Eurasian steppes.
Last month High Times published a piece profiling Chris Conrad, cannabis activist, career expert witness and founder of Cantheism, a modern religion that regards marijuana not only as a sacrament, but as an object of devotion.
Conrad was raised as a religious Catholic and entered seminary as a young man. He told reporters that learning of the Catholic church's history of persecution made him turn away from the organization, but that his first encounter with cannabis renewed his interest in spirituality. “The first time I smoked cannabis, I felt more of a religious and spiritual connection than I had gotten out of all that seminary work,” he said.
Conrad would go on to become a cannabis activist, testifying in court on a number of cases in defense of those accused of possessing the drug. He began actively practicing what he called “Kantheism” (the spelling changed later), attempting to establish a religious practice surrounding the use of cannabis, allegedly to support claims of religious freedom for those caught with the illicit substance. He went on to write the Cantheist Creed but refrained from publicly moving forward with the religion over concerns about how it would affect his professional life.
In 2016, however, Conrad and his wife Mikki Norris decided that with the changing cannabis laws and climate, his role as a spiritual leader was more important than his role as an activist. They began holding meetings for Cantheists and have even begun developing rituals. There seems to be little dogma attached to the religion, and adherents are accepting of all faiths and traditions.
Cantheists meet on Sundays. Members bring marijuana to contribute to a community stash and some bring items to place on an altar. After reciting the creed, they pass around sacramental joints in a ritualistic way. This is followed by a guided yoga session. Lectures on cannabis are sometimes given and members share stories of how the plant has affected their spiritual lives in a positive way. Afterward, a potluck is held before members depart.
While many of us might find this sort of behavior cheeky, Conrad and his followers are completely serious. To cement his faith's validity, he draws upon ancient cultures and their use of cannabis—like the Egyptians, Scythians and Hindu people—and compares his religion to theirs. “I think this could theoretically be one of the fastest growing religions around,” Conrad told reporters.