Man faces drug charges over South American jungle vines

The Associated Press, Oct. 15, 2002
http://www.savannahnow.com/stories/101502/LOCillegaltea.shtml

ATLANTA — A man from Peru faces federal drug charges for importing jungle vines and leaves that he planned to make into tea for a religious ceremony.

Alan Thomas Shoemaker said he uses the Peruvian jungle vine ayahuasca and huambisa leaves to make a bitter, rust-colored tea that is part purgative and part-hallucinogen.

South American shamans use the tea to heal the sick, bring contact with spirits and divine the future. Shoemaker said it’s part of a religious ritual that has been used for centuries by Amazon Indians.

But federal prosecutors in Atlanta say the tea violates federal drug laws because it contains the hallucinogen DMT, an illegal controlled substance.


Because Shoemaker imported the vines and leaves into Atlanta, he has been indicted for illegal drug importation and possession.

Shoemaker and his son were charged in April, a year after U.S. Customs officials at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport found three crates of the vines and leaves aboard a flight from Peru.

Shoemaker, 49, is free on $50,000 bond and living with relatives in Elizabethton, Tenn., but he faces 20 years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors recently dismissed charges against his son in exchange for his cooperation.

Shoemaker moved to South America 10 years ago to study shaman folklore and healing. He considers his home to be Iquitos, Peru, a jungle city 600 miles northeast of Lima. He has run an art gallery and a tourist business, taking groups to Machu Pichu and into the jungle.


When asked in a brief telephone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whether he considers himself a shaman, Shoemaker said he does not. “A lot of people tell me I am,” he said. “But I am forever a student.”

In Peru, Shoemaker became a member of a religious order with a combination of Amazon Indian, Catholic and African tribal beliefs.

Ingesting the ayahuasca and huambisa tea causes LSD-like hallucinations as well as heavy vomiting and diarrhea, said to be a means of spiritual purification.

The tea has been used in religious ceremonies in Santa Fe, N.M., by a sect known as the “


Shoemaker’s lawyer, Page Pate of Atlanta, said his client planned to use the tea solely in religious ceremonies.

“This is an unwarranted extension of the so-called war on drugs to a substance that has no use as a recreational drug and doesn’t pose any real threat or danger to American society,” Pate said. “Government resources could be best used elsewhere.”

U.S. Attorney Bill Duffey stands by the charges.

“This is a very dangerous hallucinogen,” he said. “We will do whatever we can to keep it out of our district and prosecute anyone who tries to bring it in.”

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This post was last updated: Oct. 31, 2014