An East Oakland church that gives out cannabis and psychedelic plants as sacrament filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department over a 2020 police raid.
The Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants, an assembly of the Church of Ambrosia, filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that the city, police department and a police officer violated its 1st and 14th amendment rights and that the city’s land use code prohibits the group from conducting religious ceremonies and sacraments involving psychedelics and cannabis inside its church.
The lawsuit originates from an incident in which Oakland police raided Zide Door Church, located at 1216 10th Ave., on Aug. 13, 2020, over allegations that the church was operating as a dispensary. Officer John Romero said the church was listed as a commercial cannabis dispensary on an open-source website and the city of Oakland‘s nuisance abatement office got an anonymous complaint in May 2019 that the church was serving as a dispensary.
The Oakland Police Department said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The city attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday that it hadn’t yet received the complaint.
The church denies that its location was identified on the website and that it doesn’t advertise its religious practices, meaning the only ways people find out is through video presentations of its services or word of mouth, according to the complaint. The church also said that members pay a monthly fee and donate in order to obtain cannabis and mushrooms, which are grown by the church.
The Zide Door Church claims that Romero applied for church membership under a false name and using an invalid or forged California driver’s license, the lawsuit states. Romero allegedly signed a membership agreement acknowledging that the church isn’t operating as a dispensary, joined as a monthly member and bought 3.5 grams of cannabis buds, which the church says is intended to be consumed on-site and isn’t for personal or individual use.
Romero searched the church, damaging five safes and seizing paperwork, inventory logs, cannabis and mushroom products, a computer and cash totaling more than $4,500, according to the complaint.
The church, which preaches against non-religious alcohol and drug use, was established in Oakland in January 2019. It claims that because of Oakland’s Municipal Code that requires a permit from the city for operation of businesses and establishments, and because religious use of entheogenic plants, including cannabis, is not permitted use under Oakland’s land use regulations, the church can’t legally practice its religious beliefs, according to the lawsuit.
On June 4, 2019, the Oakland City Council passed Resolution 87731, which forbids the city and the Oakland Police Department from using city funds to enforce laws criminalizing use and possession of entheogenic plants.
The church is asking for a permanent injunction, requiring the city to approve the land use application and exempt religious use of entheogenic plants as part of the application process, the complaint states.