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On August 8th 2011, a man conducting ayahuasca ceremonies in the UK was found guilty at Bristol Crown Court of producing and supplying class A drugs. Englishman Peter Aziz advertised himself as: “a fully initiated Shaman of 35 years training. He has a log [sic] record of healing incurable illnesses, and producing fantastic breakthroughs in personal growth… He works under possession by Kali, and… (h)is healing ceremonies are often accompanied by spontaneous manifestations of gifts from the spirit world.”
His site further suggests that he can cure cancer, and offers sticks containing the spirits of dragons, dakinis and other entities for £150. His peculiar take on shamanism, which can be witnessed in a documentary called “Trust me I’m a healer”, involves dragon’s eggs from another dimension, chants in Sanskrit and from the Koran, and jumping around the room whilst he giggles and his patients scream.
During his trial, the 51 year old, whose 35 year training regime must have begun when he was 16, invoked Article 9 of the UN Convention on Human Rights, which protects religious freedoms where this does not conflict with the public good. According to the Bristol Evening Post, he also contradicted himself at least three times during the trial concerning the events of ceremonies he conducted in January 2008. He further claimed he thought chacruna leaves (one of the ingredients of ayahuasca) do not contain DMT, although his own website makes it clear that they do.
According to his site, “the legality of ayahuasca is well established”. This was inaccurate, as he discovered last week in court, but confusion about the legal status of ayahuasca seems to be common in the UK, as it is in many other countries. As well as misconceptions amongst practitioners and clients, ayahuasca retreats are still being advertised in national newspapers, and even the government has no clear protocol. Several years before his arrest, Aziz wrote to the Home Office (the department of the British government concerned with law and order) about the legal status of ayahuasca. The official response, dated March 23rd, 2007 concludes that:
“if a plant contains a controlled drug and the courts agree that the material is a preparation or product then it is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether or not anyone would be prosecuted for possessing a plant containing DMT which is in its natural state, as there is a great deal of uncertainty around the issue and ultimately it would be for the courts to decide.”
Aziz’s guilt has, however, been decided. His sentence will be given on September 2nd.
This is the first ayahuasca case to be ruled upon in the UK, and has been little discussed in the international ayahuasca community until now, but researchers and practitioners will be watching the UK courts closely in the coming months. Other defendants currently facing charges include members of the more traditional Santo Daime church. What this verdict means for them, and what kind of a precedent the magician of Dartmoor and his fairy helpers will set, remains to be seen.
The case number is T20100950, if anyone can find out more information, please share it with this site: email@example.com