A group that believes cannabis has a secret historical role in Christianity is forging ahead with plans to visit the largest Catholic church in the nation during next week's solar eclipse, where members intend to light incense doused with cannabis-infused olive oil. Yet church leaders say the event won't happen.
Anne Armstrong, founder and deaconess of Rhode Island's Healing Church, said the Monday afternoon service could "end degeneration, disaster and war" by consecrating the Americas to the Virgin Mary.
The total eclipse will not be visible from D.C., but Armstrong said it still presents "an opportunity to channel a new consciousness into the world of concern for each other," easing domestic and international tensions.
Oil infused with cannabis, including the high-inducing compound THC, is necessary "to be valid," she said.
After a prayer ceremony, Armstrong plans to lead up to 100 attendees outside where they will exhale pot smoke through large horns, using "aroma pleasing to the Lord" that she believes is referenced in the Bible.
The head-turning plan, coming amid uncertainty for state-legal cannabis under the Trump administration, makes some pot reformers cringe. And leaders of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, about 3 miles north of the U.S. Capitol, say it won't be allowed.
"Any such event as the one suggested would not be given any consideration, nor would permission be granted," said Brandon Pettit, the basilica's operations manager and director of special events.
"The basilica engages a number of security matters on a regular basis in order to keep this location a place of sacred prayer and worship, and those security measures would be used to prevent any sort of unapproved activity from taking place here," Pettit said.
Armstrong said the church already secretly uses cannabis oil that includes THC on incense, making objections baseless. "That's not necessarily my area of expertise," Pettit said, "but I can tell you that is not used in any of our incense here."
Armstrong said an ordained Roman Catholic priest has agreed to accompany her when she visits the cavernous building, but that she will comply if they are asked to leave.
"I don't anticipate any trouble, but if there is, we'll go outside," she said. "If they tell us to leave, we'll go next door into Catholic University and invite all the kids to join us."
If she is asked to leave Catholic University, she plans to relocate across the city to the Vatican embassy, called the Apostolic Nunciature, on Massachusetts Avenue.
Although local law allows adults 21 and older to possess small amounts of marijuana, public use is not legal, nor is trespassing.
Fellow activists say they are aware of Armstrong's organizing efforts and that they imagine she will have a decent turnout.
RachelRamone Donlan, a Massachusetts medical marijuana user arrested twice outside the U.S. Capitol this year — for giving away joints and for smoking in public — said she won't be attending the D.C. event due to recent car crash injuries, but has been involved with planning.
Donlan said some members of the group were upset with the basilica's initial reaction and developed disruptive protest plans. She said those plans have been abandoned.
"In the wake of what happened to protesters in Charlottesville, the women have talked sense into the men not to perform a blasphemous attempt at attention inside the basilica," Donlan said, referring to Saturday violence in Virginia between white supremacists and counter-protesters.
Donlan said she's aware of others planning to attend the D.C. event from as far away as Maine.
Local Washington activist Adam Eidinger believes Armstrong will draw a crowd. Eidinger, co-founder of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, said the group has discussed the event at meetings and on social media.
"I know she's doing excellent outreach because I've heard from a million people that she called them and asked them to come," he said. "So I imagine she will have a nice turnout."
Eidinger will be out of town during the eclipse, but has worked with Armstrong on previous protests, such as large smoke-outs last year near the White House, where Armstrong led blessings.
Armstrong said fellow believers will host events Monday along the eclipse path in Tennessee, in Massachusetts and at a Rhode Island well that the group believes is referenced in Revelation, the final book of the Bible.
Unlike some newly established cannabis churches — such as Denver's International Church of Cannabis and the First Church of Cannabis in Indianapolis — Armstrong sees herself as returning the Catholic church to its roots, rather than forging a new tradition.
Armstrong likens her eclipse plan to a 1984 consecration of Russia by Pope John Paul II, which she believes brought a peaceful end to the Cold War.
"Right now we're on the cusp of global thermonuclear war with North Korea and threatening to go into Venezuela," she said. "People seem to be going crazy, and it's because people lost their center, faith in God."