Oakland’s psychedelic mushroom church, which promotes the religious use of cannabis and psilocybin as a way to connect with God, may be on the cusp of resolving a three-year legal saga with the city.
In 2020, the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants building on 10th Avenue and E 12th Street was raided after police received reports that it was operating as an unpermitted cannabis dispensary. The church’s founder, Dave Hodges, responded in August 2022 to what he said was a “completely illegal” search warrant by filing a lawsuit against the city of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department alleging civil rights and religious freedom violations. Zide Door is part of the Church of Ambrosia, which describes itself as a non-denominational and interfaith church promoting psilocybin and cannabis as sacraments.
Last month, Hodges voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit after being told by the city that he could apply for a conditional use permit through the Bureau of Planning. While he views the city’s offer as a way to “kick him out of court,” Hodges told The Oaklandside that if it allows Zide Door to keep operating as is, he’ll take no further action.
“We were always, from the day we opened, planning to go to federal court to protect our religious right,” Hodges said. “If and when they don’t issue it to us we will have reason to go right back to court.”
According to Hodges’ lawyer, Editte Lerman, the city said Zide Door needed a permit based on where it is zoned. While Hodges and Lerman didn’t think this type of permit was required for a private, members-only church, they’re inclined to work with the city.
“The city, in litigation, seemed to indicate that they would potentially give out a conditional use permit,” Lerman said. “Dave wants to take them for their word and give us an opportunity to work together.”
In 2020, the sworn affidavit and warrant that prompted the raid stated that the East Oakland church was listed on WeedMaps, a website used to locate cannabis dispensaries. But Hodges said he’d made an active point prior to the raid to ensure that Zide Door didn’t have a presence on the internet. And besides the five-dollar-a-month membership fee, he said he doesn’t sell anything.
“When you join the church, you own everything that is the church, and that’s part of our membership agreement,” Hodges said. “At no point is anything that we’re doing a sale, because the sale implies transfer of ownership.”
The Oakland Police Department declined to comment.
Anyone that’s a member can come to Zide Door and receive cannabis or psilocybin for free, but the church’s policy is that they must use it at home or any other safe place besides the church.
The Church of Ambrosia holds that 2.5 million years ago, the consumption of magic mushrooms by ancient humans led to the creation of the world’s first religions. Hodges said that while the religious use of cannabis activates the “inner eye” and allows you to examine what’s around you, mushrooms go much further, allowing you to leave the body and experience what happens after death.
”My actual first breakthrough dose, I met entities on the other side that told me why I existed, why I went through everything that I did in life, and what they needed me to do,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
In 2004, City Council passed the Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Ordinance, or Measure Z, a voter initiative to make private use of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority. Hodges said he believes the raid, which resulted in the confiscation of roughly $200,000 worth of cannabis and mushrooms and some cash, was part of a larger, outdated movement to bust “Measure Z clubs,” or speakeasy-type businesses selling weed. But after California legalized marijuana in 2016, he said the raid was based on laws that no longer exist.
Hodges’ complaint also cites Resolution 87731, adopted by the City Council in June 2019, which forbids the city and the police department from using city funds to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use of entheogenic plants, or psychoactive substances that alter mood.
While it’s still illegal under federal law to possess psilocybin and to sell it in Oakland, the resolution makes it the lowest law enforcement priority. The raid did not result in any criminal charges.
Hodges said that while the last few years have been an “emotional rollercoaster,” the raid was the catalyst for a larger spiritual journey.
“It was a great thing for us,” Hodges said. “It allowed us to go to court, which was always part of the plan.”
Zide Door gained over 70,000 new members since the raid, according to Hodges—totaling 93,000 people that have physically visited the church, not counting those who signed up online.
He operates two churches, one in East Oakland and one in San Francisco—but neither is big enough to accommodate even one percent of his membership, or 900 people. He said he will resume sermons when he can find a big enough space.
“I could have never imagined that the raid would lead to us being the largest psychedelic church in the world,” Hodges said. “It’s a trip, to say the least.”