It seems people are no longer looking for good real estate, they’re looking for God real estate. At least when it comes to the cultivation of cannabis. On June 29th, a 175 year old church was raided in Crawcrook, England. Upon entering, over 350 plants valued at an estimated $500k dollars were found inside. There was also a false floor discovered, utilized to bypass the electrical system in order to power the grow. The raid, which stemmed from a tip from the public, was a part of the Operation Sentinel initiative, aimed at targeting organized crime.
Neighborhood Inspector Alan Davidson issued a statement, that read:
No one wants this type of activity on their doorstep, as it presents a whole host of other issues… Anyone living near an operation like this can expect to see a rise in anti-social behavior, theft and even violence. Many cannabis farms, such as this one, also bypass their electricity creating a dangerous fire hazard… which is why we are committed to tackling this type of criminality.
The Robert Young Memorial Church is just the latest in an increasing number of churches and temples across the globe that have been found to house large scale cannabis grows, or in some instances where the churches incorporated cannabis into their practice, dispensaries operate outside of state or federal regulations.
Commandeering an abandoned church for the purposes of a cannabis grow could certainly present problems, in a legal sense. On the other hand, when it comes to churches who incorporate cannabis into their practice, things should be viewed differently. Per the United States Congress:
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
Which is where the waters seem to get murky. When cannabis is used, grown, or dispensed for spiritual purposes, do the same rules apply? Per the language of the RFRA (1993), the federal government seems to say no. Yet the raids on churches in the last few years seem to say differently – even in states where recreational cannabis is legal. Between 2018 and 2021, at least three churches went through raids in California, despite recreational cannabis considered legal by the state since 2016.
In a more recent case, the 2020 raid of Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants in Oakland, CA, stemming from a rash of complaints from neighbors in the vicinity brought the focus of law enforcement down on the newly established church. Reports included complaints of “heavy smoke clouds” emanating from the church during their 4:20 service. The group incorporated cannabis, psilocybin, and other forms of psychedelics often used in spiritual practices around the world to promote an expansion of the mind, and therefore an expansion of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is often considered one of the tenets of most religions. However, it was the church’s “dispensing methods” that seemed to be the issue. While the varied forms of psychedelics and cannabis were promoted as part of the religious process – the church was also selling the things they grew. According to founder Dave Hodges, a well-known cannabis activist in the Bay Area, the church was not selling to members. As part of the process when first becoming a member of the church, practitioners sign an agreement that states they ‘own everything that is part of the church’ and by that logic, Hodges contends that the distribution is merely giving practitioners a way to invest in the continual growth of what they already own.
“When you’re a member, you’re an owner. By that logic, how do you sell someone something they already own?”
Whether through religious practice, or commandeering means, churches seem to be finding their way into the ever-growing world of cannabis, bringing a whole new meaning to the idea of a “high-holy day.”
Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.