Pastor Craig Gross is a fan of weed. He’s not quite a heavyweight user like rapper Snoop Dogg or the legendary Willie Nelson, but he does confess to having developed a comfortable relationship with the psychoactive drug he testifies has taken him to higher levels of worship.
“I went to Coachella and saw one of my favorite artists that I’ve ever seen and I used marijuana before seeing him. It was amazing,” Gross tells The Christian Post. “I’ve never lifted my hands in a worship service ever, ‘cause I was raised Baptist. … I’ve done that in my bathroom worshiping with marijuana by myself.”
Often recognized as the founder of XXXchurch in Pasadena, California, a ministry that empowers individuals to break free from their pornography addictions, Gross has embarked on a new controversial mission: to sell and promote marijuana for Christians through a new venture called Christian Cannabis.
Changing public perception
As public perception continues to shift on the demonized plant he celebrates as a gift from God that was “created on day 3,” Gross wants to bring Christian weed users out of the shadows and challenge churches to have frank conversations about marijuana.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of millennials, support legalizing marijuana. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have now legalized it for recreational use for adults older than 21, while 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. Michigan is the latest state to legalize it for recreational purposes, while Utah and Missouri voted to legalize medical marijuana in last year's midterm elections.
Gross describes himself as among the untold number of Christians who first turned to marijuana for medicinal relief.
He says after consulting more than 20 specialists, participating in multiple scans and tests and trying numerous prescription drugs to ease a chronic migraine problem, he was finally able to experience relief with marijuana in 2013.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
It's in the wake of this shifting and complex cultural and political landscape that Gross believes churches should start having deeper conversations on marijuana and he hopes Christian Cannabis can help drive them.
“The audience that I’m talking to [is] in states outside of California like Michigan, where we’re now getting recreational. They don’t know what to think. They’re going, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know enough. This is wrong for so many years, now it’s right, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to feel,” says the XXXchurch leader.
4/20, meaning of Christian Cannabis
On April 20, Gross launched Christian Cannabis at the Coachella music festival for its cultural significance as Christians around the world observed Easter.
Both marijuana smokers and nonsmokers recognize April 20 or 4/20 as a national holiday for cannabis culture.
“I live in California. I’ve gone to Coachella for the last three years. It dawned on me when it was 4/20 and it was Easter weekend … I was going to launch this later. I was going to think about it. Overthink it. And I was just like, this seems like the perfect weekend. 4/20 and Easter,” he says.
But the launch came with much trepidation from some inside his circle.
“In California, I’ve been having this conversation since 2013 when I got a medical marijuana card. And I shared it with some people on my board and they are like, 'you can’t share this, Craig, publicly now.' And I was like, ‘why not?’
“‘Because it’s illegal everywhere. This is only California, slow down.’
“So in 2019, I had one friend say, ‘Craig, why don’t you wait another year to launch it. And I was like, another year? ... There are very few states left that are just illegal. And so I didn’t think we could wait another year,” he recalls.
Gross says even though his faith has been questioned by some because of his relationship with weed, he remains committed to Christianity.
“I’ve been a Christian my whole life and I still carry that title. And I’m not going to abandon that name yet like a lot of my friends have. I’m not just trying to make this relevant either, but Christians need to talk about these things,” he says.
“Today feels like 2002, like XXXchurch did. Putting three Xs in front of the word church is similar to putting the word Christian in front of cannabis. It’s the dumbest thing. I’ve thought about this for so long, everyone hates the name … but I needed it to be so clear and so direct. ... It means Christians talking about cannabis. It doesn’t mean we have better holy spiritual weed than you do. There’s not such a thing. So I thought, let’s just have fun with it and call it what it is because this will hone in on the conversation for our market. Our market is Christians that love the Lord,” he says.
After listening to pastors in major markets around the country on the subject of marijuana, Gross says he was even more inspired to push the discussion among Christians.
“They’ve literally told me, one guy told me particularly, ‘Craig, why don’t you go blow this up because you’ve done that before and then it’s easier for us to walk through it.’ And I was like, 'how about if there is no fire; how about if there is no smoke?'” he says. “I have a friend who is a pastor, he’s off his depression medication because of weed. So he is buying it illegally and he’d get fired from his job [if his church knew].”
Gross says he has encountered at least one pastor who has started the conversation on marijuana with his staff, but he is concerned that even pastors in states where marijuana is now legal for recreational use aren’t discussing the drug more openly with congregants.
“In Michigan, I’ve talked to one pastor, he’s the only pastor out of everybody that I’ve talked to that have said, 'we’ve had a church staff meeting about this and we need to have another one because we didn’t land on what we really need to do,'” Gross says.
“He didn’t feel adequate enough to pass it on to his congregation but they are thinking about it in advance of this being legal. ... What shocks me is churches in California, Oregon, Denver, Washington that are silent. People following and sitting in their pews deserve something more than just ‘I don’t know. We don’t talk about that here.’ That’s got to change,” he insists.
Christian Cannabis line
A part of Christian Cannabis is a plan still being ironed out to offer Christians an introductory line of marijuana products on the website.
“Because we think people just might stand to benefit from it, and because we wish we’d have had options like these when we were flying blind as newbies, trying to figure out what would be more helpful than harmful in a forbidden world, chock-full of strange names but slim-to-none on information. Stay tuned for our upcoming line of introductory cannabis products for your specific, integrative healing and wellness needs,” the website says.
Among the products are offerings that can help users find peace, offer praise, deal with pain, find purpose or express better people skills, the site advertises.
“Peace is hard to come by, whether in our world, or in our person. Perhaps it feels as though your brain is waging a war against you. Quiet it. Perhaps it feels as though your body is breaking down. Give it relief. Perhaps the frenzy is threatening to overwhelm you. Be still. Perhaps you feel like all is falling to pieces. Know that it isn’t,” the description for the peace pen says.
Does marijuana defile the body?
Responding to concerns that some Christians see the mind-altering nature of cannabis as something that would defile the body spiritually, Gross argues that if used by responsible adults, there should not be an issue.
“The third day, God created the plants before He created us. This was created before us for us. Yes, it can be abused. Yes, it can be taken the wrong way. Do I think a kid should use this? No. There have been so much studies on that, on the underdeveloped mind. I’m talking about legal responsible adults,” he asserts, noting that it should be treated in the same manner as alcohol.
Gross says he now uses marijuana “probably three to four times a week.”
“Some of the things I needed marijuana for early on, I don’t need it for [anymore]. I’ve learned how to do that. Some persons are like, ‘Craig needs weed to pray.’ That’s not what I said. I said it slows my mind down that doesn’t make a to-do list that makes it easier to pray. I’ve practiced those things and have had incredible encounters with the Lord with no drugs associated,” he says.
He notes that the way people consume marijuana in 2019 has evolved beyond the stereotypical image of the pothead.
“I don’t smoke anything with a match, with a light. I don’t have any drug paraphernalia at my house. [I have] some mints, some edibles, I have a certain kind of pen that doesn’t even have … I’m not the guy rolling a joint in the bath with my kids there,” he says.
“There’s very appropriate kinds of ways that this stuff is dispensed and shared today that is not like, oh, there Craig goes lighting up today. It’s very discreet kind of things. And so I’m more comfortable with that than lighting up a bowl and smoking it like that; that doesn’t interest me.
“I’m not saying I have a problem with that but for me, I’m not at that level,” he says. “Most of it for the last two years has just been a mint. A 5mg mint.”
While Gross believes that too much of anything can’t be good for anyone, he struggled to put a cap on what would qualify as marijuana abuse.
“I don’t think we can make blatant statements or do they do any good to say, that guy smokes too much. I don’t know why he is smoking or I don’t know what’s abuse. What’s recreational and what’s medicinal? What does that mean? Recreation, the term means what you do when you’re not working. I do this to work, I do this to relax. I’ve had the best, most creative years of my life since I’ve used marijuana," he adds.
"You can talk to my wife or my kids who say, Craig’s a better human being because of this. There’s a different awakening that kind of happens. So I’m not going to be one to judge like you should get stoned and eat pizza all day long.”
As someone who championed the conversation on porn in churches for 18 years, Gross believes the Church should try to stay ahead of the conversation on marijuana.
“I’ve spent 18 years championing a conversation about porn inside the local church. There were some very early adapters to that, Craig Groeschel being one of them. Willow Creek, Rob Bell being the first. What’s followed is thousands of churches. Three weeks ago in the middle of nowhere Texas, for the very first time in the history of the church, brought me in to cover the topic of porn. I kinda laughed with the pastors at lunch. ‘Took you guys long enough,’” Gross recalls.
“My end goal with Christian Cannabis is that it shouldn’t take me 18 years to see these kind of conversations with this topic. We’ll be way too late if we wait 18 years. The time is now. Start this conversation. It’s going to be legal where you have a church and people in your church are going to have questions.”