The Federal Government is fighting to block members of a small Christian sec in New Mexico from ritually drinking a psychedelic tea. In November of last year, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an injunction against the government's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act and the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The sacred tea, hoasca, contains dimethyltrptamine (DMT). Now, the Bush administration is appealing the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. From Legal Times:
O Centro Espirita was founded in Brazil in 1961. The tea, hoasca, which in the Quechuan Indian language means "vine of the soul," "vine of the dead," and "vision vine," comes from the Amazon rainforest. Members drink the tea at least two times a month during ceremonies. Approximately 130 members of the church reside in the United States, 8,000 in Brazil.Link (Thanks, Xeni!)
Brazil, a member of the international treaty at issue, has exempted hoasca from its controlled substances list.
But the Bush administration claims that no such exemption should exist in the United States.
The 10th Circuit's ruling is grounded in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects individuals from governmental interference in the exercise of religion. Congress passed the act after the Supreme Court, in the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, affirmed Oregon's prohibition on Native Americans' use of peyote and marijuana for religious purposes, ruling that the First Amendment free exercise clause afforded them no protection...
Under the RFRA, the government must show that it has a "compelling governmental interest" in restricting the religious practice and that the interest is fulfilled in the "least restrictive" way. The 10th Circuit ruled that the government had not proved that use of the tea, which contains 25 mg of DMT per typical serving, would lead to adverse health effects or abuse of the drug outside of a religious context.