Craig Gross, man of God/weed
Craig Gross, man of God/weed CG

Craig Gross is a man on a mission.

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Gross, a 43-year-old pastor in California, first became known in the early 2000s when he founded XXXChurch, an anti-porn Christian group that—unlike other anti-porn Christian groups—converts members through love and acceptance rather than fear-mongering and shame. He was the cool anti-porn crusader—young, hip, attractive, and online—and he launched XXXChurch at an annual porn industry convention in Las Vegas, where he tried to entice those in the industry into leaving it. He had Bibles made that said, “Jesus loves porn stars.” This effort didn’t win him many friends in either the porn industry or the church, but nearly two decades years later, he’s still at it. Today, XXXChurch is a nonprofit, an online resource, and a business: They sell workshops, books, and apps to help people battling porn and sex “addiction.” (It’s important to note that these so-called addictions are not recognized by the medical or psychological establishments and, according to most sex researchers, have no basis in science.)

Gross’s new endeavor is about something nearly as taboo in Christianity as sex: weed, and this time, he’s going against the church’s teachings. He’s not a prohibitionist; he’s a consumer, and on 4/20 this year, he launched Christian Cannabis, a website that is aiming to reduce the stigma surrounding weed in the Christian community. He also sells shit: THC mints, topicals for both “emotional and spiritual pain,” and vape pens with names like Peace, Persevere, and Praise. He says the business was an afterthought. What he really wants to do is spark a conversation—and maybe a movement.

“I knew this would cause some controversy, which is probably why I waited so long to do it,” Gross told me in an interview this week. A lifelong Christian, Gross didn’t try weed until he was 37. He was having chronic headaches that sent him to the ER, and during this period, he happened to watch the infamous 2013 CNN special in which host and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta detailed why he’d changed his mind about weed.

“The special ended with the story of a five-year-old girl from Colorado,” Gross wrote in a mass email to his friends and family in which he came out as a cannabis user. “She was dying until her parents looked into medical marijuana, extracted into a liquid form, that ended up saving her life. Her 300+ seizures a week had been [reduced]—to one. Plus, she was now able to talk. Best of all, it seemed like the side effects were mild, especially when compared to the crazy stuff I’d been reading about these other pills available at my local pharmacy.” The next day, he applied for his medical cannabis license.

Gross didn’t exactly turn into a weed head or anything like that. He prefers small doses—5 mg mints are perfect for him—and he only imbibes a few times a week. But he’s had some transformative experiences, in which he felt that God was really speaking to him, under the influence of weed. “I’d been taught all these demonized things about weed,” he told me, “and I realized it was not like what I’d been told.”

The feedback on Cannabis Church hasn’t all been positive. He’s had members of his church community come out to him as closet weed users but he’s also had people say he’s having a mid-life crisis and needs to repent. He’s lost friends over it. But, he told me, he’s always been more of a rule breaker than a rule follower, and this isn’t the first time he’s butted up against Christian dogma. At the strict Christian high school he attended in Sacramento, he says, “I would have to bring in my four secular tapes and turn them in for one Christian tape. We had a rock music seminar that said if you play ACDC backward you hear Satanic messages. It was a lot of brainwashing.”

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Still, something was bugging me during our conversation. If Gross had this eye-opening experience about weed, and if he’s already aware that some of what the church preaches is bullshit, why the objection to pornography? There are obvious ethical concerns about how porn is made—and plenty of secular feminists will argue that it’s inherently exploitative— but troves of research tell us that it’s not porn that's the problem for most people. The problem is the shame that comes along with it. So If the church was wrong about weed, is it not possible that they’re wrong about porn too?

The problem, of course, comes from the church. “I grew up like the Jonas brothers,” Gross said. “You took a vow of virginity. I never had sex until I got married, and I learned that standard from the church's perspective.” He can point to Biblical scripture that condemns looking at women with lust, but, he adds, there are less spiritual reasons he opposes porn too. “I'm finding more and more people who are let down by real sexual experiences because it doesn't match up [to porn],” he says. “So we try to help people figure out why they are looking at this. Either they are numbing something or avoiding something or running from something. For me, it's less about championing against porn and more trying to dig into why people are medicating with this.”

The same, obviously, could be said about weed, but while Craig Gross has already had his come-to-Jesus moment—his realization that everything he’d been taught about weed in Church was wrong—he’s still deeply immersed in the narrative that porn is inherently bad. Perhaps someday, he’ll toss off that dogma too, but for now, challenging the old church line on weed is radical in itself. “God made plants on the third day,” Gross told me, “And I think he did that for us.”

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