Authorities raided the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants and seized $200,000 in cash and its stash of pot and psilocybin.
Where else would you think to find a “cannabis church” in the U.S. other than in California? The Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants in Oakland has been operating as a haven for followers to congregate and ride the high of the Lord’s gospel — and the effects of cannabis.
A number of “cannabis churches” like Zide Door have popped up around California’s Bay Area over the last few years following the state’s relaxed marijuana laws. But Zide Door was the only one of these churches to distribute psilocybin — otherwise known as magic mushrooms — during its “worship services.”
According to VICE, the pot church’s distinct drug-based practice has become entangled in the battle between local law enforcement in Oakland, where Zide Door Church is located, and city lawmakers. The police raided the church in late August 2020 and seized $200,000 in cash as well as its stash of cannabis and psychedelic ‘shrooms. No arrests were made.
Dave Hodges, founder of the church who also serves as its preacher, decried the raid by the Oakland PD.
“I guess there’s nothing else going on in Oakland,” Hodges said. “I’m not 100 percent sure what the trigger for this was, but whatever it was, it’s pretty clear this was an intimidation technique.” The pot minister, who dons a cannabis-patterned rob while giving his sermons every Sunday, also suggested the raid was a violation of religious freedom laws.
The religious freedom law Hodges referenced is likely the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act which grants protection to religious practices that include the use of plants or other herbs that induce psychedelic effects.
Such religions are typically associated with ancient Indigenous practices, like the use of peyote, which contains the banned substance mescaline, but has been legally used for decades by Native American cultures as part of their religious rituals.
In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled followers of small religious groups like Uniao Do Vegetal (UDV) or the Union of the Plants could also use illegal substances in their worship services.
UDV combines contemporary Christian teachings and Indigenous Brazilian beliefs including the consumption of ayahuasca, which contains the illegal hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and is considered a sacred way for members to connect to God.
Hodges contends the Zide Door Church should be granted the same leniency as other religious practices using natural hallucinogenic plants in its worship.
“As far as I’m concerned, mushrooms are the oldest religion on the planet,” Hodges said. “When you do those really high doses, you get what can only be described as a spiritual vision. In addition, you meet entities that teach you things.”
Local authorities, however, view the church as a scheme to skirt local laws. According to the police, Hodges’ church has been selling weed without a California state sales license.
In 2019, the Oakland City Council ruled that arresting adults “involved” with psychedelic plants was a low priority for local law enforcement, but it is still illegal to sell mushrooms. During Sunday sermons, members of Zide Door Church swap cash for “tokens” that can be exchanged for cannabis items including super-strength edibles with over 100 milligrams THC — well beyond state limits.
The church’s practices have drawn doubts about its legitimacy, even among local advocates for legalizing drug use.
“That’s a stretch, and I think Dave knows it…He’s a very smart guy,” said Carlos Plazola, a 51-year-old former Oakland City Council staffer and one of the co-founders of the cannabis advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Oakland.
Hodges’ church also continued exchanges of magic mushrooms for cash over the spring and summer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After multiple warnings to the church to cease its activities were ignored, authorities launched the raid.
It’s unclear what Hodges plans to do next but it’s likely we haven’t heard the last of his marijuana-and-mushroom gospels.