Police in Oakland, Calif., recently raided the headquarters of a group that considers itself a church and confiscated drugs members say they use during ceremonies.

Members of the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants say they use marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms to communicate with God. The leader of the group, Dave Hodges, preaches while wearing a robe illustrated with marijuana leaves, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. Reportedly, about 20,000 people belong to the group.  

In mid-August, Oakland police raided the church’s building and confiscated cash, marijuana and mushrooms. While the purchase and use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes is legal in California, Zide Door had been selling the drugs even though it is not a licensed cannabis dispensary. (The sale of psychedelic mushrooms is not legal in the state.)

Hodges told the Chronicle that he is considering suing over the raid. 

“We operate under a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That’s what allows ayahuasca and peyote churches that provide plants as part of their religion,” Hodges said. “We’re not different from that, that’s what we do. In addition to that, the part of our agreement with members when you join is that you own everything that is part of the church. When you’re a member, you are an owner. And under that scenario, how do we sell you anything that you already own?” 

Oakland police said they decided to raid the facility after receiving complaints from people who live near it. A police official also questioned the group’s status as a church.

“This is the first for-profit religious establishment I’ve seen in my 28 years as an Oakland cop,” Capt. Randell Wingate told the Chronicle. “I do think claiming religious grounds will draw the attention of the federal law enforcement which is something we do not advocate. The legal can­nabis growers and sellers who pay taxes, work with the Oakland Police Department, maintain safety plans and follow zoning guidelines to respect the community have not drawn attention from the federal law enforcement.” 

Previous attempts to use churches as a cover for illegal activities such as prostitution and drug use have generally not been successful.  

But Hodges believes his case is different because his church has a more clearly defined spiritual element; he cites his experiences using psychedelic mushrooms, which he says are religious in nature.  

“It’s helped me experience God and understand religion itself,” Hodges remarked. “For me, it is without a doubt my mission to make sure people have access to these plants for religious purposes … we’re gonna keep fighting. We’re not going away and this fight has really just started.”

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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