Feds appeal ayahuasca ruling

The government asks the Supreme Court to stop the ritual use of ayahuasca.

Some time ago, I appeared as an expert witness in a case about the ritual use of hallucinogens: specifically, the use of a DMT-containing mixture called “hoasca” by the church that uses it, or “ayahuasca” generically. The case, now captioned O Centro Espirita v. Gonzales, involves a claim by the UdV — the American branch of an officially recognized Brazilian church — that its practices are protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. My testimony wasn’t on the central issue about religious freedom and drug abuse, but on the peripheral question of whether allowing ritual use would tend to increase illicit traffic.

Since the case is far from over and I might be called on to testify again, I won’t comment on its merits, but I can report on the progress of the case. The church won a preliminary injunction from Judge Parker of the U.S. District Court in New Mexico allowing it to import its sacramental “tea” while the case continues. That ruling was appealed by the government, first to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which upheld the injunction on a split vote, and then to the 10th Circuit sitting en banc, which again upheld the injunction in a fractured set of opinions dealing partly with the merits and partly with the standard for granting a preliminary injuncition.

The government asked the Supreme Court to put a stay on the injunction pending a full hearing on the question. Justice Breyer issued a temporary stay, but, after written arguments from both sides, the court dissolved that stay. As a result, the church has resumed importing its sacramental mixture and conducting its services.

Now the government has petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, and the church has filed papers in opposition to that petition.

Cert. petitition

Cert. petition appendix.

Opposition brief

Opposition brief appendix

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com