SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Federal prosecutors on Wednesday dropped charges against a husband and wife accused of illegally distributing peyote after they agreed to stay away from the hallucinogenic drug.
James Mooney, 62, and his wife, Linda, 52, leaders of the Oklevueha EarthWalks Native American Church of Utah, had pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of distribution of peyote. They said they used the drug only in American Indian religious services.
The government allows limited use of peyote for ceremonies by members of federally recognized tribes. The tribe in which the Mooneys claimed membership, the Oklevueha Band of Yamassee Seminole Indians, is not federally recognized.
The couple agreed not to acquire, use or distribute peyote until they become members of a federally recognized tribe or there is a clarification of the law regarding the use of peyote through the courts or legislative action.
The announcement by the U.S. attorney’s office for Utah came a day after the Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case involving a hallucinogenic tea. That ruling said the government cannot hinder religious practices without proof of a “compelling” need to do so.
The Mooneys and their attorneys signed the agreement last week.
Steven Killpack, James Mooney’s attorney, likened the tea used by a branch of a South American religious sect to the peyote used in ceremonies of the Native American Church.
“I’m unaware of any crime being committed by someone under the influence of tea or peyote,” he said.
Richard Lambert, the criminal division chief in the U.S. attorney’s Office, said the agreement avoided the expense of a trial.