by Matthew Meyer (*)
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the preliminary injunction issued by the District Court and affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, and sent the case back to the District Court for further proceedings.
In strongly upholding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Court ruled that RFRA demanded a close evaluation of the particular circumstances of the UDV’s use of ayahuasca. This means that the government cannot simply say that the US Congress put DMT in Schedule I, therefore it is too dangerous to use under any circumstances. The law put the onus on the government to prove that ayahuasca/DMT is harmful as used in the UDV, which the Court ruled the government had not done. The Court did not question the lower courts’ findings of fact about the health risks of ayahuasca.
The Court rejected the government’s argument that it could not make any exceptions to the Controlled Substances Act without undermining the law’s purpose. It pointed to the Native American Church exemption to use mescaline/peyote, which, like DMT, is also classified in Schedule I. It also pointed to language in the CSA that indicated the law’s administrator (the Attorney General) may make exceptions that are in the public interest.
What is somewhat worrisome about the decision is that the Supreme Court explicitly disagreed with the UDV’s argument that ayahuasca is not controlled by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Surely the government will pursue this argument more fully in further proceedings in an attempt to keep the UDV from importing ayahuasca. However, when more information about this point is entered into the official record of the case, the UDV’s argument may prevail. Even if ayahuasca is found to be prohibited by the Convention, the courts may require the government to attempt to win an exception through consultation with other signatory nations, which they have not attempted to do.
For more information:
The Court’s opinion: http://scotus.ap.org/scotus/04-1084p.zo.pdf.
A Washington Post article on the decision: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/21/AR2006022100598.html?referrer=emailarticle
Matthew Meyer´s article on the UDV case on the USA: http://www.neip.info/downloads/Matthew%20UDV-USA%20case.pdf
(*) PhD student at Virginia University. E-mail: email@example.com