Appeals Court Rules on Tea

A federal appeals court has decided that a New Mexico church’s use of hallucinogenic tea is likely to be protected under freedom of religion laws.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against the U.S. attorney general, Drug Enforcement Administration and other government agencies that sought to prohibit use of hoasca tea by Brazil’s O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal church, whose U.S. operations are based in Santa Fe, N.M.

The appeals court, in Denver, agreed with a lower court that the church has shown “substantial likelihood of success” in winning exemption for sacramental use of the tea, which contains a drug barred by the Controlled Substances Act.

Church President Jeffrey Bronfman sued the Justice Department after U.S. Customs agents seized 30 gallons of tea at his office. No one was arrested in the 1999 raid.

Hoasca tea is brewed from plants found only in the Amazon River basin. The church’s U.S. branch has about 130 members, many of them Brazilian citizens.

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