A Church Is Suing Oakland's Cops for Seizing Its Sacred Weed and Shrooms
Zide Door Church holds that its constitutional and religious rights were violated in a 2020 police action that resulted in $200,000 losses.
Published on August 18, 2022

An Oakland religious group that includes the consumption of cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms in its rites is suing the city and its police force after a raid seized its psychedelics.

Zide Door Church, which is a worship center for the entheogenic-focused Church of Ambrosia, alleges that its constitutional and religious rights were violated in a 2020 raid in which the police took $200,000 worth of weed, mushrooms, and money.

Zide Door founder Dave Hodges told the Washington Post the order has about 60,000 members. The organization was founded in 2019. Applications to become a follower involve filling out an online form, wherein one space asks would-be followers if cannabis and mushrooms are “part of your religion.” Once accepted, followers pay a $5 membership fee every month.

Sunday services at 4:20 p.m. (in non-pandemic times) were a cue for many followers to light up joints. Sounds like quite the scene — the group’s minister also dons a robe with a cannabis leaf pattern.

Representatives of Zide Door and Ambrosia insist that the church does not sell drugs — instead, members offer donations in exchange for the weed and mushies they consume on-site.

That’s not what the police and fire department thought when the East Oakland church was raided in August 2020. Official police records hold that the department was tipped off that Zide Door was selling cannabis in 2019. In 2020, shortly before the raid, the police allege that an undercover officer was able to buy pot at Zide Door.

Afterward, Hodges was issued a warning and a fine. Now, the church is suing over its right to a “sincere exercise of religion," alleging its First Amendment rights were violated.

This is by no means the first time that a church has had to take on the state over a perceived violation of its cannabis rights. La Puente, California’s Church of Hundred Harmonies closed down for good after it was repeatedly raided for providing followers with cannabis sacrament — in 2021, the Department of Cannabis Control said it seized $2 million in cannabis products from its premises. The Vault Church of Open Faith in California’s Jurupa Valley also had to shut down, though other cannabis faith centers like Denver’s International Church of Cannabis have managed to survive legal challenges to its 420 faith.

Despite law enforcement’s seeming modern-day mission to paint these sects as excuses for consuming drugs, religions that feature cannabis in their rites have existed for quite some time.

In India, followers of the deity Shiva drink the cannabis-milk concoction bhang during Holi. Rastafarians hold their relationship with the cannabis plant as a sign of the group’s closeness with other living beings, and often consume the drug during extended Nyabinghi drumming sessions. And in Mexico, followers of the “narco saint” Jesus Malverde honor him by bedecking Malverde’s chapel with homemade plaques featuring the cannabis plant.

Follow Caitlin on Instagram, and catch her Spanish-language podcast Crónica on Spotify and Mixcloud. 

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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