The Austin Chronicle

Weed Watch

By Jordan Smith, December 31, 2004, News

Let the Ayahuasca Flow

Federal drug warriors took a hit on Dec. 8 when the full U.S. Supreme Court voted to lift a temporary stay that Justice Stephen Breyer had granted against the U.S. branch of the Brazilian Union of the Vegetable Beneficent Spiritist Center (or, in Portuguese, the Uniao do Vegetal or UDV) congregation based in Santa Fe, N.M. The court relief means that for the first time in six years UDV church members will be able to use ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic substance derived from the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi, which church members take as sacrament.

In 1998, fed narcos raided the Santa Fe church – one of three branches of the Amazonian Santo Daime faith – and seized 30 gallons of ayahuasca tea, which they assert they had the right to seize since it contains diemethyltryptamine or DMT, which the feds regulate under the Controlled Substances Act. The head of the UDV's U.S. branch, Seagram's whisky heir Jeffrey Bronfman, cried foul and sued. His church's use of the drug is akin to the legal use of peyote by members of the Native American Church, he argues, and so far the courts have agreed. The feds have lost their case against the UDV twice – in federal district court and then on appeal before a three-judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals – before asking Breyer to impose a stay pending a review of the case by the full bench of the Denver-based 10th Circuit. That stay has now been lifted, meaning the ayahuasca will flow while the appeals court reviews the government's request.

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