Federal Judge: Small Oregon Church Can use Hallucinogenic Tea

By Traci Scott,

An Ashland church can import and brew a hallucinogenic tea for its religious services, according to a U.S. District Court ruling.  Judge Owen Panner issued a permanent injunction on March 26 barring the federal government from prohibiting or penalizing the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen from sacramental use of “Daime tea.”

The church originated in Brazil and blends Christian and indigenous religious beliefs.  It uses tea brewed from the ayahuasca plant in their services.  The tea contains trace amounts of the chemical dimethyltryptamine, or DMT.

According to the church’s lawsuit, the tea is the central ritual and sacrament of the religion where members believe only by taking the tea can a church member have direct experience with Jesus Christ.

The Brazilian government, after studying the Santo Daime religion and the effects of Daime tea on church members, has recognized the Santo Daime church as a legitimate religion and permits sacramental use of Daime tea.

The Catholic Church in Brazil considers Santo Daime to be a valid religion and treats the Santo Daime church as a full partner on humanitarian and environmental issues.  Santo Daime is also recognized as a legitimate religion in Spain and The Netherlands.

The case originated in 1999 when federal agents searched the home of Jonathan Goldman, the head of the Ashland-based Oregon branch of Santo Daime, where they intercepted a shipment of these leaves.

Worried that another crackdown could be imminent, the Ashland chapter of the church filed suit against the federal Department of Justice and Treasury Department in February arguing that the tea should be allowed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to the lawsuit, the federal government in 2001 reserved the right to take action against the church; but the suit does not allege any active investigation.

Noting that the Oregon Board of Pharmacy has approved the use of ayahuasca tea for religious purposes, the suit cites “the continuing threat of arrest and prosecution of members of the Church who attempt to bring the tea in from Brazil or hold services,” adding that “Plaintiffs are still in great fear that defendants’ agents and employees will arrest them and throw them in jail for practicing their religion, even in Oregon.”

Panner ruled that federal drug enforcement agencies are prevented from prosecuting the church for importing, possessing and distributing the tea and as long as they abide by guidelines outlined in his decision.

The guidelines state that the church must register as an importer, record information about church officials who will handle the tea outside of ceremonies, sample and track each batch of tea, store and transport the tea in a secure manner and warn members who could be at risk of adverse reactions to the tea.

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