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Federal Settlement Will Allow Arizona Church To Import, Process And Use Ayahuasca As Religious Sacrament



A new settlement between the federal government and an Arizona-based nonprofit will permit the group to import and use ayahuasca as a religious sacrament—an agreement leaders are calling a historic milestone for spiritual freedom.

Under the settlement announced by the Church of the the Eagle and the Condor (CEC), the group will be permitted “to import, receive, manufacture, distribute, transport, securely store, and dispose of ayahuasca solely for CEC’s religious purposes.”

Specifically, the agreement says the church will import ayahuasca, which contains the psychedelic substance DMT, “in concentrated paste or in liquid form” and then “combine the ayahuasca paste with water to manufacture ayahuasca tea for sacramental uses” at a location in Phoenix.

CEC says it’s “the first non-Christian church to receive protection for its spiritual practices regarding Ayahusca,” adding that the development under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Action marks “the first time in history a church’s right to import and share its sacrament has been secured without going to trial.”

On the other side of the dispute was the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

CEC sued in 2022 over DHS’s seizures of shipments of ayahuasca intended for ceremonial use as well as the government’s threats that the group and its members could face federal prosecution.

The settlement document shared by CEC on Monday establishes that the group can now import, process and use ayahuasca, though DEA reserves the right to take spot samples of the imports “for the purpose of confirming that the consignment is in fact ayahuasca which contains no controlled substance other than DMT.”

Joseph Tafur, a doctor and ayahuasquero for CEC, said in a statement that the “Ayahuasca ceremony is an essential sacrament for our church.”

“Our ceremony is rooted in the Shipibo Amazonian tradition which has been passed down by countless generations. Now, in fulfillment of the ancient Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, this tradition has come to North America,” Tafur said. “Our ancestral practice will continue to support the community and nourish our holistic well-being.”

The group’s general counsel called the agreement “a watershed moment in the United States.”

“The resolution of this case represents the government’s recognition of this community’s right to exercise their religious beliefs without interference,” Martha Hartney said in a CEC release about the settlement. “Indigenous ways are returning to a place of honor, respect, and care in American culture–a culture made more beautiful because of Indigenous ritual, art, and cosmology in which all of creation is family.”

While some U.S. jurisdictions have recently loosened psychedelics laws, none has included provisions around importing psychedelic substances internationally.

Separately, DEA argued late last week in a U.S. appeals court case that the federal Right to Try Act—intended give patients with terminal conditions the opportunity to try investigational medications that have not been approved for general use—“does not provide anyone with a right to dispense or receive controlled substances.” The agency’s claim came in a new brief in a lawsuit filed by a Washington State doctor seeking to legally use psilocybin to treat cancer patients in end-of-life care.

Meanwhile, earlier this year DEA called for the production of even more DMT—along with psilocybin and THC—for research purposes than it had initially proposed for 2024, raising quotas for those drugs while maintaining already high production goals for marijuana and psychedelics.

DEA has touted its Schedule I drug production quotas as evidence that is supports rigorous research into the substances, but it’s faced criticism from advocates and scientists over actions that are viewed as antithetical to promoting studies.

For example, DEA in December announced that it would take another shot at banning two psychedelics after abandoning its original scheduling proposal in 2022, teeing up a fight with researchers and advocates who say the compounds hold therapeutic potential and who more recently argued that the agency’s administrative approach to the proposed scheduling is unconstitutional.

The agency separately backed down from a proposal to ban five different tryptamine psychedelics in 2022 amid pushback from researchers and advocates.

Read the full settlement agreement below:

Study Finds Natural Psychedelic Mushrooms Produce ‘Enhanced Effects’ Compared To Synthesized Psilocybin, Suggesting Entourage Effect

Photo courtesy of Apollo/Flickr.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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