Ever heard of a pot-smoking church?
If you pay attention to the news, such churches seem difficult to miss lately.
When Indiana passed its religious freedom law in 2015, questions — and controversy — arose as to whether the measure would open the legal door to the First Church Of Cannabis.
Last year, the Los Angeles Times gave national coverage to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Centennial, Colo.
With a stained-glass window behind them, a lineup of speakers stepped to the front of the church and talked about the potential health benefits of legalizing plants that are currently outlawed in Alabama.
"I smoke cannabis on a daily basis for my pain," said Janice Rushing, president of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light in Alabama. "If I did not, I'd be on pain pills."
Her husband, Christopher Rushing, chief executive officer of Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light, says he also uses marijuana routinely.
The Rushings founded the Oklevueha Church in 2015 and claim that it has a legal exemption for its members to smoke marijuana and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote cactus.
At a January forum with an audience of about 30 gathered at Unity Church in Birmingham, which allowed the use of its facilities, speakers discussed the potential benefits of marijuana and other substances for medicinal purposes.
"I had an ungodly facial rash," said Sherrie Saunders, a former U.S. Army medic who is now a member of Oklevueha Native American Church in Alabama.
"We made a cream that completely got rid of that rash," Mrs. Rushing said.
Someone in the audience discussed a heart problem and sleep apnea.
"That could be something that cannabis could help," Saunders said.
Kudos to Garrison for a solid piece of reporting on — believe it or not — "God and cannabis."
As we've noted previously, the Religion News Association points to certain traits that are assets for religion journalists: Respect for the role of faith in people's lives. Immense curiosity about religion. An abiding sense of fairness and balance. A commitment to covering all kinds of diversity.
Willingness to spend time with all sorts of people in the places where they live, gather and worship.
Garrison does just that with this story.
The veteran Godbeat pro offers important factual details, along with valuable context such as this:
The National Cancer Institute, in its overview of cannabis in treatment of cancer, makes no claims for curative powers, but acknowledges that cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and that it "may have benefits in the treatment of cancer-related side effects."
Researchers at UAB and other universities are studying the benefits of such natural treatments, including the use of psylocibin mushrooms in treating cocaine abuse. Peter Hendricks, a clinical psychologist at UAB, is currently doing research on the use of the active ingredient in psylocibin mushrooms.
Hendricks spoke in May 2016 at a Homewood Public Library event sponsored by the church. He spoke again in January at the event at Unity Church in Birmingham.
Hendricks said he only talks about his research at the church-sponsored events and does not endorse Rushing's church or whether its use of drugs is legal or not. The events give Hendricks a chance to advertise the research trials, which still need volunteers. Hendricks' research explores the use of mushrooms in weaning addicts off serious drug addictions.
As you noticed, Garrison gives serious treatment to the church and its beliefs. Readers can assess the facts and form their own opinions based on them.
That's good journalism.