By Bia Labate and Matthew Meyer

We are happy to announce that this site  has published a selection of what we consider the most important statements of the Santo Daime Oregon case. Please check it out here.
We would like to thank Débora Carvalho Pereira and her son Sebastião Gabrich for their generous volunteer work in uploading these files. We sincerely hope that this material will help expand the public debate on this topic, as well as make the information circulate inside the ayahuasca field, which frequently lacks exchange and communication.

Now we would like to clarify a little on the future perspectives of this case.

Having lost five times now on the merits of the question whether religious freedom laws compel the government to permit an exception to the religious use of ayahuasca, the Justice Department has dug in on narrower legal issues. In particular, the strategy in both the Oregon Church of the Holy Light of the Queen (Santo Daimem or CHLQ) case and the UDV case appears to be a tooth-and-nail haggling over the exact forms of handling and recordkeeping that will apply to the importation of ayahuasca from Brazil.

Testimony from the UDV case amply documented the lack of DEA oversight of Native American Church peyote distribution and use after the cactus is purchased from the licensed peyoteros in the Southwest. However, courts have so far rejected the argument that the ayahuasca churches are legally comparable to the Native American Church. Consequently, the Justice Department has told them, in essence: “congratulations, you are now official importers of a controlled substance! Now you are accountable for all of the regulations that govern such importation.” The court in the UDV case explicitly forbade the government from imposing some of the more clearly incongruous recordkeeping measures, such as the requirement, under 21 C.F.R. § 1312.12(a), that importers of controlled substances indicate the quantity of the substance to be imported in kilograms. (The court ruled that the UDV could report its importation activity in liters, though it did also require that samples of each batch of ayahuasca be set aside for testing by the DEA for DMT content.)

This ruling still gave the government a lot of room to maneuver. Having lost on the substantive issues in court, the Justice Department has so far resisted attempts to settle the case under a permanent arrangement, arguing instead over recordkeeping and other minutiae that seem to some to be a kind of legal filibuster. Now that the Oregon court has ruled in favor of the CHLQ, the government is adopting a similar stance there. Judge Owen M. Panner, who presided over the Oregon case, went further than New Mexico Judge James A. Parker did in the UDV case, ruling that agents of the government “are enjoined from requiring Plaintiffs to conform their conduct to any regulations except as set forth” in the injunction. The Justice Department has filed a brief asking Judge Panner to modify the injunction, and claiming that most of the regulations in question were not alleged at trial to violate the CHLQ members’ religious freedom, and should therefore not put out of bounds by the decision.

The government has until mid-May to appeal the entire decision to a higher court.

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