Church founder Dave Hodges said when the church opened, he conducted weekly sermons at the Oakland building but basically stopped during the pandemic. During the sermons, he dressed in robes adorned with pictures of cannabis plants and talked about “the insights” he experienced when going into “these deep realms” after taking mushrooms.
Prior to COVID, Hodges would pass out joints to his members before giving his sermon. The church does not allow people to take mushrooms on-site due to safety issues and instead encourages people to take psychedelics in a place where they won’t have to drive for at least 8 hours.
Since the pandemic, Hodges said he has had only one in-person sermon — in February — with about two dozen people.
Hodges said he doesn’t sell drugs. Instead, members of the church pay a $5 membership fee per month and donate money to get the church’s sacrament — cannabis or mushrooms, which the church grows. Hodges said he has issued almost 60,000 membership cards total and that on average, up to 200 people come per day to the church to pick up cannabis or mushrooms.
Just doing the math here, if Hodges had 60,000 members he would be bringing in $300,000 per month or $3.6 million per year just from the dues. And then people are donating money on top of that for drugs. And since he wasn’t giving any “sermons” for the majority of the church’s history, his job was to grow the drugs, collect the money and distribute the drugs. That sounds a lot like what a drug grower/dealer does to me.
In 2020, police raided the “church” on the grounds that it was an unlicensed marijuana dispensary. They seized about $200,000 worth of drugs in the raid and now the group’s leader is suing the city demanding they reimburse him. Whether or not he’ll win the case depends on if the court decides his “church” is really a religion and not a clever way to deal drugs.
Hodges said he and his members sincerely hold their beliefs. And the church creates a “progressive and creative worship experience for its members, offering meditation, prayer and study groups,” the complaint states. “Central and essential” to their religion is the “sincere, sacramental use of entheogenic plants, and fungi, including cannabis and psilocybin.”
His religion is rooted in the belief that more than 2 million years ago, human ancestors stumbled upon mushrooms and came up with the world’s first religions after experiencing the entheogenic plant.
There are all kinds of people in the world and maybe Dave Hodges really does believe what he’s saying on some level, though I suspect there’s some financial incentive mixed in with that. But even if you grant him the benefit of the doubt, it’s very, very unlikely that his members believe as he does. If he has given out 60,000 memberships and only two dozen people attended his February sermon, that’s a small fraction of one percent who demonstrate behavior that treats this like a church. The overwhelming majority are just paying Hodges and collecting drugs. Regardless of how he sees it, I’d be willing to bet the majority of them just see him as a drug dealer.
Erwin Chemerinsky, who runs Berkeley’s law school, doesn’t think Hodges case has much chance of succeeding. Based on this article I think he’s right, but it is the Bay Area so you never really know what might happen.
Finally, here’s a local news report on the police raid which happened in August 2020: