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Psychedelic Church Files Lawsuit Over Police Raid

California’s largest church, which distributes cannabis and other psychedelic drugs to worshippers for spiritual purposes, has sued the City of Oakland as well as its police force. The lawsuit claims that a raid in 2020 violated federal religious freedom protections.

Zide Door Church brought the lawsuit against the police force and city. The establishment serves as the Oakland center of worship for the Church of Ambrosia, “a nondenominational, interfaith religious organization that supports the use and safe access” of certain natural psychedelic drugs known as entheogenic plants and fungi, according to the group’s website. A minister wearing a robe emblazoned with cannabis leaves leads the church’s services, where members are permitted to smoke cannabis as a sacrament and pathway to connecting with a higher power.

To join the church, prospective members are required to fill out an online questionnaire asking if the applicant is a member of law enforcement and if they accept cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms as “part of your religion.” Once admitted to the church, members can pay a $5 monthly membership fee that allows them to receive cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms for a donation to the church.

Before the pandemic, Sunday worship services were held at 4.20 p.m. where the founder Dave Hodges would give out joint. Hodges says that the church has over 60,000 members and opened its doors in 2019. Every day 200 people come to the church in order to obtain cannabis and psilocybin.

California legalized marijuana for adults since 2016. However, in 2019, Oakland leaders decided to remove the criminalization of psilocybin mushrooms from other entheogenic plants.

Lawsuit Over 2020 Raid

Oakland Police Department officers raided Zide Door Church on August 20, 2020. Officers from the Oakland Police Department entered Zide Door Church and confiscated approximately $200,000 worth of cannabis, cash, and mushrooms. According to police, the facility was operated as an unlicensed dispensary instead of a legal place for worship. Although no charges were brought against the suspects, the money and drugs that police confiscated during the raid weren’t returned to the church.

A search warrant was served along with an affidavit stating that the police received a report that Zide Door Church had been operating as an illegal cannabis dispensary. A two-month later, an undercover officer from police visited the church in order to join and exchange cash for marijuana. The church was raided just days later. Hodges received a warning and was fined, but nobody was arrested.

Kritikers were skeptical of the legitimacy of the church as a place for worship following the raid. Hodges claims that this is false.

According to the lawsuit, the police and city are claiming that their raid and seizure of cannabis and other natural psychedelic drugs violated religious freedom’s constitutional guarantees. In the legal action, the church details the “sacramental use” of cannabis, psilocybin and other natural psychedelic drugs as a way to connect with “a higher consciousness, their own eternal souls, spiritual beings and God.” Consuming psilocybin mushrooms is not permitted at the site, however.

“This is not just an excuse to sell drugs,” Hodges told the San Francisco Chronicle. “This is what we truly believe is the origin of all religion and really what religion should be.”

The lawsuit argues that the raid violated the church’s “sincere exercise of religion” in violation of federal law, as well as the church’s right to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

According to a question by, the Oakland Police Department declined to comment on the suit. The Washington Post. Barbara Parker, City Attorney, stated to reporters that the city has not been served yet with the legal action. However she declined further comment.

Jesse Choper, a law expert at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the church’s religious freedom argument might prevail if the lawsuit goes to trial.

“If it’s not a sham business,” he said, “I would say the smokers got a pretty good case.”

But Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law, said the church is not likely to succeed with its defense that religious freedom exempts it from state drug laws.

“The general rule is that there is no exception to laws for religious beliefs,” he said. “Assuming that the California law applies to everyone and does not have discretion to grant exceptions, then there is not a basis for challenging it based on religion.”