Supreme Court lifts stay; UdV may worship now

The Supreme Court has now dissolved the emergency stay issued last week suspending an injunction forbidding the government to interfere with the rituals of the UdV, the American branch of a Brazilian church that uses a DMT-containing potion called hoasca or ayahuasca as its sacramental drink.

Yes, I know that sentence is hard to parse, but what it means is that, in this case, the use of an otherwise banned hallucinogen has been made lawful due to the sincere religious intentions of the people handing it out and the people swallowing it. If this stands, it represents a significant extension of the precedent set by allowing the use of peyote in Native American rituals.

Marty Lederman of SCOTUSBlog comments.

What this means, as a practical matter, is that the members of the UDV will be able to use hoasca in religious rituals, notwithstanding the Controlled Substances Act, for an extended period — almost certainly the most significant RFRA exemption to federal law in the history of that statute. Assuming the SG petitions for certiorari on the preliminary injunction (rather than going back to district court for a trial on the merits), and further assuming that the Court grants the petition and rules for the Government, it will likely be at least a year until the Court overturns the injunction. And by the time the Court hears arguments in the case, presumably there will be some evidence concerning whether the RFRA exemption has caused the harms — in terms of health risks, diversion to improper (non-RFRA-exempted) use, and damage to U.S. efforts in the international narcotics-interdiction campaign — that the government has articulated. (Of course, if the Government does not return to the district court, it might be very difficult to figure out a way to include in the record of the case any intervening evidence of the experience under the RFRA exemption.)]


The government’s application for a stay.

The church’s response in opposition.

Supplementary documents to the church’s response.

The government’s reply.


“RFRA” is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“UdV” or “UDV” is O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Unaio do Vegetal.

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:

One thought on “Supreme Court lifts stay; UdV may worship now”

  1. Don't read this or your brain will hurt.

    I warned you: The Supreme Court has now dissolved the emergency stay issued last week suspending an injunction forbidding the government to interfere with the rituals of the UdV [O Centro Espirita Beneficients Uniao Do Vegetal], the American branch of a B

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