A Santa Fe congregation that uses a hallucinogenic brew of South American plants as a sacrament thought its battle with the government was over in early 2006.
It had won a unanimous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that year that said federal drug regulators hadn’t met their burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in trying to restrict importation and use of the tea.
But it wasn’t until last week that the case actually ended.
Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker summoned the Albuquerque attorneys for the Brazil-based church, O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, or UDV, to his courtroom. U.S. Department of Justice attorneys participated by phone from Washington, D.C., for a hearing in the 10-year-old civil lawsuit.
Parker offered his gratitude to the lawyers for their hard work on the case, and to Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi for helping them reach the 21-page settlement and agreement to dismiss the case.
UDV members were able to use hoasca again after a stay was lifted in 2004. The agreement codifies procedures for importing, registering, record keeping, inspection, storage and security of the tea. It also includes payment of the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, although the amount is redacted from the agreement.
Parker observed at the hearing that the case originated when Janet Reno was the attorney general, and proceeded through five other U.S. attorneys general over the years.
“This case really said people in a small church who practice a really unknown religion have the same rights as anyone else,” said Nancy Hollander, who represented the church and argued it’s case before the Supreme Court.
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