Using My Religion

Chris Bennett (with parrot Popeye) has spent $15,000 in legal fees, money he's recouping through an online retail storeChris Bennett (with parrot Popeye) has spent $15,000 in legal fees, money he’s recouping through an online retail storeFrom the street, Chris Bennett’s place-a stoopy garden suite off Victoria Drive-doesn’t look like much, but inside it’s a shrine. A second-century Scythian gold coin hangs on the living-room wall, along with an 18th-century depiction of saddhus smoking a chillum, an 18th-century print called Fakhirs Prepare Bong, hashish postcards from the 19th century, and a 1730s print of a woman smoking cannabis, her breasts flung up over her shoulder to feed her child. Plus framed antique chillums from India and a three-foot statue of Shiva.

The revelation that reshaped his life happened 20 years ago, in Ucluelet. He’d moved there from the sawmills of Port Alberni, and taken a part-time job as a night watchman at a fish plant; he spent the rest of his time surfing and growing weed. One night, toking in the staff room, something in the paper caught his eye, an ad featuring televangelist Pat Robertson paired with tanks and fighter jets-a piece of agitprop supporting America’s first adventure in the Gulf with the language of Revelations. Bennett, 28 at the time, reached for the Good Book and read its final chapter.

“I’d seen The Omen as a kid, and there were some Jehovah’s Witnesses at the plant, so I knew something about the Bible.” Accounts of John swallowing a scroll, and then prophesying, felt familiar. “I figured, ‘He’s obviously eaten something that’s affecting his consciousness. That’s weird.'” Then he hit Revelations 22:2: “On either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

As he describes it, divine light entered his being. “I felt like it just started pouring into me. This was a reference to cannabis hemp. Cannabis hemp was the tree of life.” Numinous with revelation, he called his wife, Tracy, who started crying on the phone, thinking he was having a breakdown. “The next day, I got up after sleeping away the day, and I wondered: ‘Was there anything to that, or was I just tripping?'” Looking out over the devastation of the Clayoquot clearcut, he lit up a joint and committed himself to his new sacrament.

Bennett’s brother was the camp chairman for the loggers’ union and his wife’s family were loggers, but he wasn’t at all political. Yet the more he thought about hemp (banned in Canada at the time), the more sure he was that his revelation held promise for all humanity. A Grade 11 dropout, he started researching. He discovered C. Creighton’s 1903 essay “Evidence of the Hashish Vice in the Old Testament” and Sula Benet’s “Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp.” Connections between hemp and the anti-logging and anti-war movements only multiplied. He and Tracy started a newsletter, Patriotic Canadians for Hemp. He became a minister in Ontario’s cannabis-based Church of the Universe. In 1995, his essays grew into a book, Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion, written with Lynn and Judy Osburn. The volume begins: “All the religions of humanity eventually flow into the Mystery of One-Spirit that inspires humans with Revelation that carries us beyond the slow pace of physical evolution into the Hyperborean Youniverse of cultural evolution.”

The Bennetts visited universities, bringing samples of hemp cloth, paper, seeds. “In those days, I was Ezekiel. Big long dreadlocks, all my own handmade hemp clothes. I was proselytizing everywhere, very apocalyptic.” Tracy was an athlete, and an aspiring writer. She grew jealous of his mounting knowledge and influence, he says, and scared by the growing role of cannabis in their lives. “She saw things getting tougher, and this being a hard path to follow.”

When their marriage ended, he moved, first onto a boat, then into Vancouver, where he took a job managing Marc Emery’s Pot-TV and married American pot activist Renee Danielle Boje. (They’ve since divorced; their son, Shiva, is eight.) In 2001, he self-published Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible. “Here in the bi-millenial year of the most popular individual in history, Jesus Christ,” it begins, “it is the perfect time to take an honest and hard look at the book that pivoted him to popularity.” The work argues for marijuana’s central role in the Bible: Moses’ conversations with an angel while staring into a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-21); the anointing of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); Jesus’ baptism not with water but cannabis-infused oil (Mark 1: 9-11). Last year, Bennett published his third book: Cannabis and the Soma Solution, a densely footnoted argument for marijuana’s use in religious ritual since 2000 BC. “We know that sacramental use of cannabis is older than any existing religion-we know from archeological evidence.”

His beliefs are sparking wider attention. In 2009, he sought an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to grow and possess marijuana. In his affidavit, he wrote that because cannabis is illegal, “I am continually in jeopardy of losing my liberty for exercising my religious beliefs.” Health Canada disagreed, ruling that such an exemption (similar to that for medical marijuana) would not be in the interest of the Canadian public.

Bennett will soon be back in court, challenging the health minister’s refusal. If Bennett is not allowed access to marijuana, he argues, his charter right to religious freedom is abridged. Win or lose, he’ll continue to smoke his sacrament. He uses about a quarter-ounce a day, which costs him $40; that money, plus the $15,000 in legal fees to date, comes from the income he makes selling his books and running an online plant and artifacts shop called The Urban Shaman (Amanita muscariamushroom, 10 grams, $10; morning-glory seeds, three grams, $7).

“I’ve stuck to the mission,” he says. “If I dropped dead tomorrow, my ideas would continue to grow. The more people look at them, the stronger they get. If they were bullshit, they’d just fade away, but there’s way more cannabis churches now than I can keep track of. And many of them are based on things I’ve written.”

– Article from Vancouver Magazine.



  1. Pingback: a spiritual revelation – Cannabis in Canada The Illustrated History by Dana Larsen

  2. Daniel Johnson on

    To my knowledge, religious use defences for cannabis have failed every time they’ve been tried, but I believe that if there’s a chance for one to succeed it would have to be you or someone like you. With the other cases I’ve followed, I found myself questioning the sincerity of a church that sells memberships and specifically mentions the religious use defences in it’s advertising… with you, and found myself agreeing with the courts about how totally fake their religious beliefs appeared to be, whereas anyone whose read your work over the years will have no doubt of your sincerity.

  3. Anonymous on

    It seems that it is okay for Harper politics to continually break the rules! Harper caught red handed manipulating the media to withhold information of the 5 million liter oil spill as a result of the changes to the regulation policies for those who monitor pipelines during the election. The listeriosis outbreak that killed 22, can be contributed to Conservative policy changes in the testing for contamination at Canada’s food processing plants! Tony Clement is now President of the Treasury Board of Canada, while the Liberal Party in Ontario is just making the final payments to the people claiming damages due to the policy changes in the safe water testing procedures by the then Harris Conservatives that involved Clement and Flaherty that caused the deaths of 7 and the illness of 2500 people in Wiarton. Makes Canada’s financial future a grave concern for a non partisan oversight? Does Harper’s majority make the election fraud that 4 Conservatives have been charged with, part of the right wing mandate? When you quit your job as a Canadian Senator to run in the election is it not illegal for the Prime Minister to give you your seat on the Senate back? Canada whether the Conservative voters are aware of it or possibly not politically savvy enough to understand it, have put Canada in a very dangerous position. It is one thing to say that Harper has won a majority of the Canadian voters of the last election, but it is another to say that the majority of Canadians agree with a religious right minority carrying more weight than the rest of the people combined! The Conservative Campaign held no truth of Harper politics?
    George Lenard

  4. Chris Bennett on

    Toby, I support your secular use of cannabis. Indeed, in regards to the sacramental use of cannabis and religious freedom, I would first point out the right to cannabis, indeed all plants, cacti and fungi, is a natural right that supersedes even the religious use issue, more akin to our right to air, earth and water – this is about life on earth and indigenous natural relationships. I can say to you with confidence, there is no religious doctrine not transcribed by the hand of man, but no matter what god or goddess one believes in, they should also believe that god created the plants of the earth. Indeed, in the case of the popular belief of our own culture, the Biblical God quite clearly states: “Behold, I have Given you Every Herb Bearing Seed which is Upon the Face of all the Earth” (Genesis 1:29).

    That said, historically cannabis has played a paramount role in the spiritual life of man, dating further back than any existing religion. Moreover, cannabis has always played a role in religion, above and beyond that “Bronze Age mythology book” which you think is the only “religion” so learn to live with that and educate yourself.

  5. Rizanin on

    Dear Chris, I know, how at evening the Christ has divided sacred hemp, and when it has bypassed a circle with pupils, has told it is there is My Spirit, Spirit the Comforter, Spirit of true

    I know, how accused the Christ the Pharisee when pupils collected hashish in the field. I know also that that Jesus has answered them, – ?????????? I want, instead of interdictions and a taboo.

    Let’s investigate, the brother. With the Divine help we will comprehend true of the full Gospel

  6. David Alonzo on

    Great article and ideas. Glad u escaped the fishing and logging industries- they are destroying our country, along with the tar sands and mining. Cannabis is obviously a religious sacrament that inspires us to be more kind, earth-centric, less consumerist and oppose all wars. You are the ideal person to take on the government to gain religious rights to use cannabis. Please keep us posted on your progress with this effort:)

  7. Toby on

    Belief in mythology is pathetic. Christianity is horrifically unethical, false & cannabis is good, whether it is written about in that middle eastern Bronze Age mythology book which orders rape & slavery, or not. Religion should keep it’s stupid, slaving, raping, murdering, racist, wicked, anti-science, anti-reason, anti-ethics mitts off the best plant on Earth and be destroyed forever for the sake of goodness.

  8. Covey on

    Just wanted to say high, to you my friend.
    It’s been a long time, we met at the Irwin Cottler Protest and you and Renee drove in my minivan. I was so virgin then with the little knowledge I knew, I wanted to say thank you. I always gave credit to Marc being he is the leader in lime light making changes and huge sacrifices but I never forgot you my friend. It was becasue of you and others I met that sent me on such a wonderful journey, I just wanted to bless you, your family and friends.
    I have learned much in the 6 years and I thank you.
    I had a site on Youtube, Covey69 they took me down and of course all the work applied. Trying to decide my next direction here in Edmonton.
    Now I play with a Comedy Channel and a new one that will be leading up to direction in your walks of life, my friend.
    I have been preparing and making connections to the many and when the time comes, I hope you can help me, give correct information regarding, The Holy Anointing Oil.

    Don’t know if I’m allowed to save these links..