Be a Voice for Religious Freedom & Support Rabbi Ben

Psychedelics have been used in religious ceremony since time immemorial; peyote, ayahuasca, psychedelic mushrooms, and other natural substances are a critical part of the spiritual practice of many religions.

Yet, today, as natural psychedelics are starting to become decriminalized for personal use and widely accepted in the medical/therapeutic community for their powerful ability to treat various mental health disorders, the state of Colorado has arrested a religious leader using psychedelics in his spiritual practice and charged him with a first degree felony that carries an 8 year minimum sentence, would cause him to be defrocked and never lead a congregation again, to lose the right to vote and to travel…

This, inexplicably, is happening in a country with laws explicitly supporting the use of psychedelic substances in religious ceremony, in a state with laws explicitly supporting the use of psychedelic substance in religious ceremony, and in a city where mushrooms have been decriminalized.

My name is Rabbi Benjamin Gorelick; I’m the spiritual director of a small Kabbalistic Jewish community in Denver called The Sacred Tribe. My community uses psychedelic sacrament – specific strains of ‘magic mushrooms’ grown with sacred intention and taken explicitly and exclusively in religious ceremony – as part of our religious practice, in accordance with millenia of Kabbalistic Jewish practice.

Three months ago, I was arrested on felony drug charges and now face an 8 year minimum prison sentence for leading my community.

And I know what you must be thinking: if this guy was arrested, he MUST have been doing something wrong – selling mushrooms (or worse!) on the side or running a synagogue that was really just a front for selling ‘shrooms or something along those lines…

It’s the opposite. I got arrested for trying to do everything right. Here’s the story:

More than 30 years ago, this country passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), clearing the way, at the federal level at least, for the religious use of naturally occurring sacramental substances such as mushrooms, ayahuasca, and peyote. This right has been affirmed by the Supreme Court, directly and indirectly, numerous times. The DEA even offers guidelines for the religious use of these substances, even if they don’t grant true carte-blanche exemptions.

In response to the federal RFRA law, 21 states have passed their own RFRA laws – Colorado is not among them. 

But Colorado has had on the books, for more than 40 years, their own law that allows the use of sacramental substances for religious use.

And, of course, mushrooms have been decriminalized in Denver for 4 years. In fact, Denver’s own District Attorney, Beth McCann, was part of a panel that last November said:

“The therapeutic, intentional, and ritualistic use of psilocybin mushrooms has been an integral part of human cultures for millennia. This shared ancestry of use by all peoples… has its reverent roots in a celebration of the natural world that promotes physical health and vitality, an inspiring link with nature and the divine, and deep connection with community. Because of [their] potential, much of the responsibility falls on lawmakers and policymakers to no longer deny human history, honor traditional psilocybin use, and ensure that future policy reform centers psilocybin access to populations who can benefit from it the most.”

“The Panel believes that decriminalizing psilocybin in Denver has not presented any measurable public health or community safety risks. With an incredibly low number of arrests, no known hospitalization or emergency medical treatment data, and a vigilant local community of professionals, educators, and service providers, it seems clear that the potential benefits of psilocybin far outweigh the risks.”

Reading all this, you’d think that our community would have no reason to fear the government or operate underground.

We certainly didn’t think we needed to be afraid, and so we chose to do everything above board.

  • We worked with the federal government for more than a year, to make sure our religious/ceremonial use was strictly in alignment with the DEA guidelines;
  • We have a written legal opinion, compiled by four lawyers with expertise in the religious use of schedule 1 controlled substances, who have concluded, with no grey area, that our use deserves protection under the laws of this country, state, and city;
  • I am an ordained Rabbi who wrote his thesis on the history of psychedelics and Judaism;
  • I have a ruling from a Jewish court stating that our community’s use is in alignment with 2300 years of Jewish tradition;
  • We don’t grow our sacred sacrament in a basement or closet, but in an above-board commercial space specifically built for growing mushrooms, complete with safety systems, health and safety inspections, and so on;
  • We use various strains of mushrooms, each with a specific intention, in accordance with Kabbalistic tradition;
  • We hired a medical director, a PhD psych who spent years working in the Johns Hopkins Psychedelic Research Group to make sure both that members are screened for any medical counterindications before coming in AND to make sure that there is medical support, 24 hours a day if necessary;
  • Before their participation in any ceremony, new members are interviewed for more than an hour, by me, to make sure their religious exploration aligns with that of our community.
  • And on the day of a ceremony, I meet with each member, individually, to discuss where they’re at, what their intention is for the ceremony, and where they’re at in their integration process. Only then do we allow each person access to sacrament.
  • Our sacrament is NEVER taken in any context outside of religious ceremony. Mushrooms aren’t for sale (and never have been) to anyone, for any reason;
  • There is no link between donations and participation in our community – many of our members have never made a financial donation;
  • We have trained facilitators available at every ceremony to offer support;
  • All congregants stay at our facility overnight, so they both have access to support during and after the ceremony AND to make sure that nobody goes home intoxicated;
  • We require all members to participate in a thousands-years-old integration process called Mussar – The Feeling Path – to support their integration before, during, and after any ceremony.

We are as by-the-book as you’re ever gonna get.

And here’s the thing: Nobody has accused us of doing anything outside of what I described above.

So why was I arrested? We asked for a fire inspection at our community grow, just like any other legal organization would. The fire inspector saw our mushrooms and called the local PD, who, having no idea that we’re a religious organization, stormed in 3 hours later, found our not-at-all hidden sacrament, and arrested me, along with one other employee who was on site.

And why have they continued to prosecute us?

I don’t know.

Freedom of Religion is perhaps the strongest value we hold in this country. And whether you’re religious or not, nobody would argue that, legally, religious practice deserves protecting, even if we disagree with the practice. 

We don’t throw Rabbis in jail for a decade for not-harming someone.

It is for exactly that reason that we have the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect the ceremonial use of sacrament at the Federal level, Colorado’s C.R.S. § 18-18-418(3) to protect it at the state level, and Denver’s I-301 to decriminalize mushrooms at the county/city level.

And, yet, here we are.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can help:

  • Sign and share our petition, asking Denver District Attorney Beth McCann and interested lawmakers of the state of Colorado to please immediately drop all charges against Rabbi Benjamin Gorelick and The Sacred Tribe employee currently being discriminatorily prosecuted for their legally protected free religious practice.
  • Write a letter to Ms. McCann, asking the same. Here is a template letter you can start with, if you need some guidance.
  • Make a donation on our website or to our GoFundMe, to help pay our 6-figure legal fees.
  • Share our story via your social media. Here is our Social Media Share Packet, with images, hashtags, etc.
  • Support the various state initiatives that would decriminalize or legalize indigenous/religious use of sacramental substances. 

Thank you. I and we are deeply grateful for your help and support.