DOPE Interviews | Christian Cannabis Founder Craig Gross

Rundown

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DOPE Magazine and its affiliates are non-denominational and inclusive publications. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher and editor.

Craig Gross has been challenging evangelical Christian notions about who’s worthy of God’s love since 2002. As founder of XXXChurch.com, he’s brought the Word of God to porn actors and enthusiasts while helping pastors and their congregations rethink their adversarial approach to these populations. His latest venture is a website provocatively called Christian Cannabis, which was inspired by his own experiences self-medicating and overcoming dogmas of his religious upbringing to discover the substance he now credits with bringing him closer to God, not to mention his wife and kids.

Like XXXChurch, the site aims to “furrow some eyebrows” and start a discussion in America’s Christian communities around an increasingly unavoidable subject they’ve long demonized as diametrically opposed to Godliness, for cultural rather than scriptural reasons. In addition to posting reader comments ranging from cries of blasphemy to first-person testimonials of cannabis’s medicinal benefits, the site will soon beginselling their own cannabis vape pens geared towards spiritual practice, with alliterative names like Praise, Purpose, Peace and Pause. DOPE caught up with Gross last month for a conversation covering everything from how cannabis helped him find himself during the darkest period of his life to the concerned reactions of other church members who think he’s lost his marbles and become a drug addict.

“This is why in this day and age the church is becoming less relevant, this is why people are losing interest. It’s okay to not have an answer [about cannabis], but it’s not okay to not have a conversation.” – CRAIG GROSS, FOUNDER OF CHRISTIAN CANNABIS

DOPE Magazine: I read the “Email That Started It All” explaining your background with cannabis, but I was hoping you could summarize some of the broad strokes for our readers. What were the biggest things that brought you to cannabis and helped you overcome the initial shame of trying it?

Craig Gross: As dumb as something like Christian Cannabis sounds, in order to reach this demographic you’ve gotta go, ‘There’s a reason why it’s silent, because no one knows much about it.’We’re really good in the church at shaming and demonizing things we don’t understand.

I’m 43. I didn’t ever touch [any drug or cannabis] until 37, and I would still stay I’ve never had an experience where I’ve gone too far or abused it. A lot of pastors haven’t lived this hard life where you’re out partying – they have no reference or exposure to drugs or marijuana, so they can talk about it and try to recite a Bible verse, but good luck trying to find one. Just for context, in 2002, I was a youth pastor, and I grew up where I didn’t have porn, I [followed] a bunch of rules from this Baptist church: I had to cut my hair, I couldn’t play the drums, I couldn’t dance and I couldn’t drink. Then I attended another church, and they’re like, ‘Well we can drink, but we don’t do this.’

I was around when AOL internet [came] out in the ‘90s. When I started working with kids that go online at home, I knew they were watching porn but I couldn’t believe none of these parents knew. Not to mention, no one in the church was talking about porn. This is when I decided to make a change,  and in 2002, [I started talking about porn] – I put put three Xs in front of the word church, blew up this space, and started a conversation directed at the church to say: ‘Hey, porn’s not going away on the internet.’ At the time it was the number one thing to do online, and it took me going to a porn show and [having the realization that] ‘Jesus loves these people too.’ We [as Christians are] no better. Let’s talk about it.’ So, for the last 18 years, I’ve been the guy that churches bring in when they don’t want to talk about this issue [themselves]. I travel with Ron Jeremy, I go to porn conventions, we do wild things and I bring back the safe stuff to the church to say: ‘Let’s have these conversations, because the rest of the world is doing these things.’

For cannabis – the very first time I [consumed] was in 2013, and I wanted to talk about it. Everyone’s like, ‘Craig, if you talk about this now, you’ll lose everything you’ve built, and it’s not time.’ I came to cannabis in 2013 because it was the worst year of my life. I’m healthy, I’ve never broken a bone in my body, and [in 2013 I am sitting] in a situation where my dad had died, my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cysts, I didn’t know if I was grieving or not and I didn’t know how to deal with death. Then I started getting headaches, and then I start chasing doctors, and they just keep handing me more prescriptions. I watched the “Weed” documentaryon CNN in the middle of that, and it was a time when I knew it was medicinally legal in California. But marijuana is just way more shamed than alcohol, so that CNN story made me think, ‘These people are smart.’ I remember watching episode two on Sunday morning, and instead of going to church, my friend came over with his kids, and my wife literally was like, ‘Hey, you and Dave go get medical marijuana cards, I’ll watch the kids.’

Dave and I went and got medical marijuana cards, and [ended up] at some shady-ass office. When we asked [how to get] to the nearest dispensary, they couldn’t direct us to one. They didn’t even print our cards right; the doctor was on Skype. I was like, ‘This is legal’? I get why not a lot of people would do this, because [at that time] it felt wrong and dirty. My first experience ended in me thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have ate a whole cake pop.’

Up until 2017, there were about four years where I occasionally went back in [to dispensaries] to see if there was something new or someone with more information. When [cannabis] passed recreationally and the [rec] stores started popping up, it was just a whole new day in LA. When you go into some of these big stores, it’s not shady, it’s very safe and informative. There’s a place in Burbank that got its license for recreational, and I said here’s my problem: ‘I used to have headaches that are gone now, but I’m in my head all day long, it never stops.’ They were like, ‘Hey, try these relax-a-mints,’ (these hybrid 5 milligram mints). I wasn’t walking out with a pipe or bong or drug paraphernalia, I walked out with a tin of mints that looked like Altoids. Those mints and those experiences, I think, opened me up to my compulsion to try and explain this, especially to Christians. It slowed down my mind just a bit, so I was able to be intentional about trying to rest, it just felt like it hit pause on my brain, and I was able to connect more with my heart.

But at the time I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone about the experience I was having with low-dose cannabis even though I wanted to – and that’s where I’m the rulebreaker. I thought, ‘Why can’t I tell anyone? I didn’t break a law.’ I just thought people were gonna judge. In churches, you’re met with a lot of judgment and criticism that pushes against things that are unfamiliar. My experiences from 2017 to 2019, I would say have resulted in the best years of my life in terms of business, family, personal and spiritual growth – just being more connected with who I am.

Finally, I was like, “I’ve gotta share this.” I get that it can be dangerous, and you can abuse it, and I have my own kids that I don’t want to use it right now because of studies detailing its effects on [minors]. I’m not recommending this to save everybody’s lives, but you can’t deny the fact that there’s power in this plant. My own mom, I put those same mints on her bed when she was living with me in my backhouse, and she said I’ve never slept better. I told her it was weed, and she returned them to me. Then she moved out, and about a year later, her neighbor in Glendale tells her the same thing I did, took her down to the shop, and turned her into a fan. She’d never smoked a day in her life, but now she uses a topical cream and some mints. It took somebody else and myself to break my mom’s religious upbringing. When I saw that shift, I was like, it’s just going to take somebody like me – not because I’m the biggest name out there, but I’ve pushed up against religious norms in order to help people in the past and I’ve been successful. I know how to do it, and I’ve navigated enough of these conversations and sat with enough pastors of the largest churches in America, that have no plan and no understanding of it, who have literally said, ‘Craig, why don’t you do something, and make it easier for us?’

There’s been a lot of fear mongering about the dangers of cannabis in past decades that’s turned out to be, for the most part, unfounded. Why do you think that fear about cannabis seems to endure so much in Christian communities?

CG: There’s a lot of fear-based mentalities spread through any religious organization. I think Jesus came to disrupt a lot of that. But we’re living in bubbles in our Christian world, where if we don’t know something or it pushes against what we think the norm is, that’s “attacking” us. Really, it’s not about the pot or these other issues; it’s about religious strongholds that people are sitting with, or what they’ve been told. The Bible says obey the laws of the land, and a lot of people are confused because [cannabis] it has becomelegal in several states in the last few years – so people think, “What do I do? There’s gotta be a reason why it was once illegal, it still must be bad right”? I keep saying: ‘We were wrong on slavery.’

I have a friend who owns a vodka company. I just said, there’s no medicinal value to what you’re doing, and yet you’re coming at me with judgment on what I’m doing. I’m just saying, it’s my experience, and I bet there’s more people like me who are hiding. I’ve gotten emails from pastors, pastors’ wives, leaders, veterans, you name it, who are saying, “me too”.

There was a situation last month where a pastor in Ohio spoke too soon about the issue of cannabis and went so far as to calling me a drug dealer. Many people in the congregation reacted and said, “My pastor doesn’t speak for me, but I feel ashamed and I don’t really think there should be shame here.” The goal with Christian Cannabis is to get people talking, in rational ways through smart conversations. Will we be learners and be involved with something new?

That’s my goal, and if I didn’t think we could make some progress within the church, I wouldn’t have risked it. But I do think there’s this openness around [cannabis]. I was at a church in Dallas a month ago speaking about porn, and it was the first time in 18 years this church has ever opened their doors to this conversation. I came home and I told my wife, it’s not going to take me 18 years to start this conversation in churches with cannabis. We’re gonna get there quicker – we’ve got to.

You mention on the site being tired of Christians following rather than leading. How would you like to see them taking more of a lead on cannabis? What would be the benefit?

CG: There’s a hundred-plus ministries I know of that deal with sex addiction and porn and all the things I started 18 years ago. I’ve traveled around the country to a thousand churches talking about this. I can start a conversation, we can have some products, but for other people, it’s like giving them permission. If the church could start realizing there’s people in their congregations that have experience about this topic, but they’re not talking to you because you’re not talking about it then we could make progress. If we could get [the leaders and the congregation] talking, we’re gonna go: ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been – not lied to, but we haven’t understood this.’ These people with the megaphones and the big churches, [they could better lead] by not being afraid to start these conversations.

There’s a church of about 15,000 people in Michigan, [where recreational cannabis was just legalized]. The church held a staff meeting where they had a two-and-a-half-hour conversation, and what they realized was, they have a lot more to discuss. They didn’t land anywhere, and they didn’t have enough to take to their congregation yet. The church staff knew they needed to have a conversation because a cannabis dispensary was opening its doors just a mile away from their church. This is an example of a church taking initiative. My advice to this church was to not just talk about this to their congregation but with their congregation. A lot of times pastors think they have to have all the answers. But, when it comes to the topic of cannabis, there’s a lot to learn from people in the congregation. I would love to see churches host nights where they have an open discussion and forum with staff and members of the congregation on the topic of marijuana instead of issuing statements and stances. That would be taking initiative.

There’s an LA-based church with a lot of celebrities in attendance and a lot of stances that they share in a lot of papers. I said to the pastor, ‘Can we go to the weed shop, or would you be fired’? He didn’t know. I had another pastor come to Orange County from LA to see what a weed shop was like, and she bought a bath bomb and a bag of gummies. She didn’t want to be spotted. Whether a pastor is leading a 10,000 or 100 member church, they need to have answers to questions about marijuana because it is controversial and relevant in a city like Los Angeles where you can’t go on a freeway without seeing a [cannabis-centric] billboard, or enter a pet store or a spa or look at the Bed Bath & Beyond catalog without seeing CBD products. And we’re in a church that’s going, ‘Is it all bad’? This is why in this day and age the church is becoming less relevant, this is why people are losing interest. It’s okay to not have an answer [about cannabis], but it’s not okay to not have a conversation.

I got a text from a friend last night saying, ‘Are you going through a midlife crisis? I’m concerned.’ People literally think I’ve lost my mind or I’m a drug addict. I had a friend call me a drug dealer.

I saw a few of the comments on the site saying, basically, this is sacrilege.

CG: I’ll publish your post on the website if it’s based on experience or knowledge, but we’re in an age where we just barf comments. I posted some of those on my social, the good and the bad, because I want to show how polarizing this is. And the bad stuff is so uneducated. The way people twist scripture and the way people believe this is, like, you’re just brainwashed. The Bible didn’t say that. That’s not healthy. I can respect if you had an experience and swore off marijuana, I don’t need you to come back to it.

It’s hard when you don’t understand it. I was a virgin when I was married. I wrote that I would not have sex on a card and threw it off the Golden Gate Bridge in one of those purity things – typical Jonas Brothers shit. I stuck with that and didn’t have sex before marriage. But if I’m being honest, I meet more Christians who have the worst sex of anyone, because for the majority of their life they are told that sex is bad, bad, bad – and then one day, at 3 o’clock, it becomes good. It goes against what they have had engrained in their brain since childhood. I can turn a switch pretty easily in my mind, but for a lot of people, when you just say something’s bad and now it’s good, they still feel guilt and shame in partaking in whatever it is they were taught was bad. I know what it’s like, I’ve been there, and I’m seeing that exact same thing happening with cannabis. And the voices saying “bad” are a lot louder, prior to me doing this, than anybody saying it’s good, which hasn’t navigated directly to that audience.

They’re like, ‘You must have lost your mind. We’ll be here when you come back to your senses, and God will be too.’ I think it’s quite the opposite. For me, cannabis has brought me closer to the Lord. Then people say you don’t need weed to connect to the Lord. I never said you did. I’ve [been] connected with the Lord since I was seven years old, but in the last two years [I’ve] connected to the Lord more than ever because I believe, on a spiritual level, he lives in your heart, not your head, and I’ve been in my head too long.

There is a lot of talk [surrounding the difference between] medicinal vs. recreational cannabis and so many have come out saying okay to medical. Both can be abused – I want to be clear on that and I don’t want that but for my wife and I and some friends of mine we have found the playful side of cannabis and I have no shame in telling you that. For my wife and I we have had so many great nights not getting “high” or stoned out of our mind but using cannabis and connecting more with each other than ever before. We have been able to sit and be more open, laugh more, love more, rest more and be more vulnerable. As for sex, let’s be real. Sex has become much more than a physical act that can feel more enlightened but I would say for us [sex] has become more of what sex should be: A connection that is emotional, physical and spiritual and working with cannabis has shown us that and much, much more.

What are the biggest lessons or values of cannabis that you think would benefit the Christian community as a whole?

CG: I believe marijuana is an amazing awareness tool. You know how many people have told me it makes them paranoid? I don’t know if it makes you paranoid; it just shows you you’re paranoid. It shows you you’re a control freak. It shines a light on some things that maybe you hadn’t noticed previously. For me, that’s like, do you want to know those things? It’s become a great teacher of these things that maybe you just missed, and I miss a lot of things in my life because I run fast. For me to slow down and see some of this stuff has been beautiful. Without a guide or good intent or good understanding of this, you could have a horrible experience, but there’s a reason there’s a lot of this on the shelf today, because I think more people are having better experiences with it. And there are people out there in our church world who are open to this and that need this.

Jeffrey Rindskopf

Jeffrey Rindskopf is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle, born and raised in southern California. He attended film school at Chapman University before beginning his career as a freelancer in 2014, writing fiction and articles covering travel, food, and culture. When he isn't writing, Jeffrey likes to travel or simply melt into the couch while consuming some of his favorite media.
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