Dave Hodges, the founder of Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants in Oakland, California, gives a sermon dressed in a robe emblazoned with cannabis leaves. (Photo courtesy of Dave Hodges)
A church in Oakland that uses magic mushrooms to have a “direct experience with God” is suing the city and local police over a 2020 raid it argues infringes on the group’s constitutional and religious rights. The Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants says its a local chapter for followers of the Church of Ambrosia, “a nondenominational, interfaith religious organization that supports the use and safe access of all etheogenic plants with a focus on cannabis and magic mushrooms,” according to its website.
Zide Door Church founder Dave Hodges said the church has 60,000 members who pay $5 a month and give donations in exchange for “sacrament”—weed and shrooms. Hodges said he regularly does huge doses of mushrooms, as much as 15 to 25 grams at one time. (A typical dose is one to three grams.)“You get what can only be described as spiritual visions. You leave your body, you interact with entities that have knowledge they wish to teach you, and you can even have a direct experience with God.” In 2020, Oakland police raided the Zide Door Church and took $200,000 worth of cannabis and mushrooms, Hodges told VICE News. He said no arrests were made and no one was charged. (Weed is legal in California, and Oakland effectively decriminalized shrooms in 2019, but it’s not legal to sell them).In a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday, the church said it’s seeking damages “for the harms” it suffered as a result of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights being violated; the church is now seeking a permanent injunction allowing it to operate in Oakland. “We’re really hoping in any way possible to hold the Oakland police department accountable for what they did,” Hodges said. Oakland police told VICE News it does not comment on pending litigation. VICE News has reached out to the city attorney’s office for comment but has not yet received a response. The lawsuit hinges its argument on religious freedom. A federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does allow certain groups to use banned drugs, though only a couple of ayahuasca churches—both of which have Brazilian origins—are currently protected in the U.S. The Native American Church also has an exemption to use the hallucinogen peyote under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Hodges said Zide Door was back up and running the day after the Aug. 13, 2020, raid and that Oakland police haven’t hassled the church since then. Still, Hodges said he wanted to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations ran out.“We believe this is a right. To me, these plants are what first allowed us as humans to understand there’s something more to this existence,” he said. The church operates as a physical location where people can come and pick up shrooms and cannabis. It also offered Sunday services but hasn’t since the pandemic started, Hodges said.He also pushed back on the idea that it’s simply a dispensary using religious freedom as an excuse to sell drugs. He said people who feel that way “just don't understand that we truly believe in this.” In fact, the sermons Hodges came up with while doing high doses of mushrooms were “some of [his] most popular.” But he doesn’t do those at church because “you need a bed and a bathroom right next to each other—it’s not something you do in public.” Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter. Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.