On June 6, I have posted this news in my Facebook page:
“Ground breaking news! Santo Daime in Montreal just received a legal exemption from the goverment to consume Daime in Canada! Congratulations! Good job! Well deserved and just after many years of battles! Viva o Santo Daime! Viva a justiça! Parabéns!
Will this hopefully impact the global economy of ayahuasca legality?
See news from Jessica Rochester, President of Céu do Montréal: “It is with great joy that we inform you that on June 5th, 2017, Health Canada granted our Section 56 Exemption. This exemption will allow us to import and serve our Sacrament, the Santo Daime, in our spiritual rituals. The exemption process first began in 2001, and through the years many people have contributed different forms of support. We offer gratitude to all those who have provided Céu do Montréal with practical, moral, spiritual and financial assistance. The exemption granted to Céu do Montréal is exclusively for Céu do Montréal. While through our efforts we have made it possible, in principle, to obtain an exemption, this exemption does not mean that the use of Ayahuasca or Daime is legal as such in Canada. Each legitimate organization must apply to Health Canada for their own exemption, and for all information regarding the exemption process. Any importation or activities conducted with Ayahuasca/Daime without a Section 56 exemption from Health Canada will be considered illegal by the Canadian government.”
Post-scriptum: Céu do Montréal is affiliated with the Santo Daime Church Céu Sagrado (Centro Espiritual Universal, Sanidade, Gratidão e Doação,) located in Sorocaba, São Paulo state, Brazil; it operates as an independent organization.
Today I’d like to add some more great news:
The União do Vegetal (UDV) was also granted a religious exemption for the sacramental use of hoasca (ayahuasca) in Canada! The UDV has a very small community in Canada. Jessica Rochester from the Céu do Montreal Santo Daime church and Jeffrey Bronfman from the UDV in the US (but also Canadian citizen) worked together in a collaboration in order to advance their common interests. However each group filed their request to the government separately.
Hopefully this will help to establish a system that allows for responsible and legitimate use of ayahuasca in Canada, opening up the doors to further groups to apply for an exemption, allowing the use of ayahuasca in a proper Northern cultural and legal context.
Please remember that all other (unlicensed) uses remain illegal: This is not a “green light” for ayahuasca use in Canada!
Credit photo: UDV process in the Supreme Court in the USA.
See here for news in Portuguese.
This excerpt from our book has a short description of the history: Tupper, K.W. (2011). Ayahuasca in Canada: Cultural phenomenon and policy issue. In B.C. Labate and H. Jungaberle (Eds.), The internationalization of ayahuasca (pp. 319-325). Zurich: Lit Verlag.
(Observation: Céu do Montréal closed its connection with ICEFLU, formerly known as CEFLURIS in 2010. In 2011, as an independent Santo Daime Church, Céu do Montréal formed an affiliation with Céu Sagrado.)
Céu do Montreal
In May 1996, Jessica Williams Rochester returned home to Canada after an extended visit to Brazil and established Céu do Montreal, a chapter of the Centro Eclético de Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra (CEFLURIS, or in English, the Eclectic Centre of the Flowing Universal Light, Raimundo Iriuneu Serra), one of the more prominent branches of the Santo Daime religion. From the time of its founding until 2000, Céu do Montreal leaders imported the Daime sacrament (i.e. ayahuasca) into Canada with Brazilian agricultural export documents, and practiced their religion according to church doctrines. In September 2000, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency intercepted a shipment of the tea and turned it over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for chemical analysis. Subsequently, RCMP officials informed the church that because of the presence of DMT and harmala alkaloids in the tea, possession of Daime constituted an offense under the Canadian criminal code and any further attempts to import it or distribute it in ceremonies could result in criminal charges of trafficking a controlled substance (Rochester, 2006). It is important to note that the RCMP were respectful in this process and provided Céu do Montreal with the contact information for Health Canada’s Office of Controlled Substances, explaining that the church could apply for a legal exemption for their sacrament. Although the seized Daime brew was not returned, the police kept it for six months in anticipation of a successful exemption outcome and expressed regret when they were ultimately obliged to destroy it.
In April 2001, based on the advice of the RCMP, Céu do Montreal applied to the Office of Controlled Substances of Health Canada for a Section 56 exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to lawfully permit its ceremonial use of the Santo Daime sacrament. Section 56 is a clause in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows the Minister of Health to grant permission to import, possess or distribute any illegal drug. Specifically, it reads:
The Minister may, on such terms and conditions as the Minister deems necessary, exempt any person or class of persons or any controlled substance or precursor or any class thereof from the application of all or any of the provisions of the Act or the regulations if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest (Department of Justice Canada, 2007).
Section 56 is seldom and cautiously exercised. Most notably, Section 56 exemptions are granted to some physicians to prescribe methadone as a maintenance treatment for opioid dependence. Section 56 has also been used to authorize scientific research trials for a supervised injection site in Vancouver, British Columbia and for heroin prescription in Vancouver and Montreal. Prior to a 2001 court ruling that resulted in enactment of federal Medical Marihuana Access Regulations, the legal use of medical cannabis was granted through the Section 56 exemption process (Lucas, 2008).
In September 2006, Céu do Montreal received a letter from the Director General of Health Canada’s Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances Programme informing them that the government had concluded its investigations and approved “in principle” the granting of a Section 56 exemption, pending receipt of documentation from the government of Brazil allowing legal export of the tea. Jessica Rochester reports that throughout the application process the officials at Health Canada’s Office of Controlled Substances have been consistently thorough, respectful and patient with what has been an unusual and complex investigation (personal communication, April 12, 2009). At the time of this writing, the Canadian government had not yet had word from the Brazilian government on a conclusion to their export permit process, and Health Canada had yet to bestow final approval for the Section 56 exemption. In the time since the Section 56 exemption application was initiated, however, the Santo Daime has expanded in Canada, now with three chapters in Quebec and four in Ontario. Yet even if the Santo Daime is given an exemption, it will only apply to the church sacrament prepared and distributed according to their religious doctrines. This leaves open the question of the fairness of restricting other types of ayahuasca drinking, such as psychonautic or cross-cultural vegetalismo practices.