A California church that gives out cannabis and psychedelic plants as communion is suing the city of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department over a 2020 raid, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Zide Church of Entheogenic Plants, an assembly of the Church of Ambrosia, claims the city and police violated its 1st and 14th amendment rights and that the city’s land use code prohibits its religious ceremonies.
The raid occurred on Aug. 13, 2020, due to allegations the church was operating a cannabis dispensary. The church was allegedly listed on Weedmaps. In May 2019, Oakland’s nuisance abatement office got an anonymous complaint that the church was doubling as a dispensary. In the lawsuit, the church denies it was listed on the website and that it doesn’t advertise its services.
Church founder Dave Hodges told the Times that the church is “not just an excuse for selling drugs.”
“This is a sincere faith, and the work that I personally do with mushrooms is with the really high doses. There’s no doubt in my mind that mushrooms were the first way our ancient ancestors understood there was more to this existence.” — Hodges to the Times
The lawsuit claims that Oakland police officer John Romero used a fake name and invalid or forged driver’s license when he signed a membership agreement, which acknowledges the church is not a dispensary, and bought an eighth of cannabis, which the church says was to be consumed on-site and not to be used for personal or individual use. Romero is accused of searching the church, damaging safes, and seizing paperwork, inventory records, $200,000 worth of cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms, a computer, and more than $4,500 in cash, according to the complaint outlined by the Times.
The lawsuit argues that Oakland’s land use code prohibits the church from operating legally and that those regulations ban the religious use of entheogenic plants, including cannabis. A 2019 Oakland law bars the city and the Police Department from using city funds to enforce laws criminalizing the use and possession of entheogenic plants, the report says.
Hodges described the raid on the church as if the members “were some kind of crime family” and said officers proceeded with the action as if “they were taking down a meth house.”
“They came in guns blazing, which they didn’t need to do. They could’ve accomplished the same thing with two officers without their guns drawn,” he told the Times. “This was a classic smash-and-grab scenario where they took our sacrament, they took our money and they never filed any charges.”
The church is asking the court for a permanent injunction against further law enforcement action, requiring the city to approve its land use application and exempt religious use of entheogenic plants as part of the application process.