April 13-16, 2007

Wyndham Phoenix
Phoenix, Arizona

SAR Program Committee

Chair: Simon Coleman, Ellen Badone (President, SAR), Beth Conklin, Charles Hirschkind

C – Psychoactive Substances: Law and Religion [Co-organized by Alberto Groisman and Michael Winkelman]

Recently the Brazilian parliament approved a law permitting the “ritualistic-religious” use of psychoactive substances. The US Supreme Court also recently decided to uphold a preliminary injunction that assures to the Brazilian religion União do Vegetal the right to use ayahuasca for ceremonial-religious purposes.

These decisions are part of an increasing body of similar legal approaches topsychoactive substances use also made in recent years in the Netherlands and Spain. They constitute legal responses to a contemporary phenomenon: the expansion of the ritual-religious use of ayahuasca, peyote, jurema, iboga and other psychoactive substances known as entheogens, hallucinogens or psych-integrators, classified as illicit substances in the national legislation of many countries.

These recognitions of ritual-religious use of psychoactive substances as legitimate in South America, North America and Europe has relied on related knowledge and expertise concerning social, cultural, ethno-botanic, health and religious to making legal decisions. A few of a variety of themes and questions raised by these disputes include: issues regarding the definitions of religion and ritual for legislative purposes; “cultural defense” in religious related trials; cosmological/theological views confronting forensic discourse; social scientists’ expertise in lawsuits related to religious issues; internal or external process distinguishing unauthentic or illegal practices, among others.

This panel aims primarily at addressing these issues within the context of establishedlegal disputes, to exchange theoretical, empirical and analytical basis for substantiating the diverse approaches that legal systems might take in dealing with the existence of these religions and their use of psychoactive substances.

Introduction: Michael Winkelman – Arizona State University

“Drug Tourism: Anti-spiritual Materialism”

Marlene Dobkin de Rios
[email protected]

A phenomenon that has been going on for several decades—drug tourism in the Amazon—includes the merchandising and comodification of spiritual states of consciousness induced by drinking a mixture of several psychedelic plants, long used byurban and rural Mestizo healers and in different forms among river-edge peasantry and indigenous groups. This tourism, with all the pagentry of a Hollywood epic film, replete with tour guides, celebrity neo-shamans and charlatans is a public health menace and needs to be evaluated and controlled. Unlike the use of such plants as sacraments in new religions like the União do Vegetal and Santo Daime in Brazil, the materialistic exploitation of foreign visitors to the Amazon regions of South America makes a mockery of and is destroying the traditional use of such plants within a shamanic framework to control and supplicate spirit forces animating the psychedelic plants to service the individual and community.

The Church of the Awakening, Exemption Denied

Robert Forte
[email protected]

Here we present a recent historical example (1974) of the attempts to accommodate the responsible use of psychoactive substances in bona fide religious model, and the determined resistance by the US Courts to thwart it. Following passage of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, the federal law making LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, and other psychoactive substances illegal, except federal sanctioned medical research, and the Native American Church. The Church of Awakening, a legally incorporated religious organization which had been using these psychoactive substances sacramentally prior to the law, petitioned the Court for an exemption similar to the NAC to maintain their practice. Although the court affirmed the bona fides of the Church of the Awakening, the exemption was denied, on the grounds that Western society lacked a prior tradition using such psychoactives, unlike the NAC, which has a long established history.

Urban ayahuasca-naïve users and the legitimacy of ritual ayahuasca use

Paulo César Ribeiro Barbosa
[email protected]

Ethnological data has described culturally sanctioned ritual use of the psychedelic beverage ayahuasca for magic-religious purposes throughout the western Amazon Basin by Amerindian and mestizo populations. Throughout the twentieth century, migrants from northeastern Brazil mixed the Amerindian/Mestizo-Amazonian habit of ayahuasca usage for religious purposes with previous religious beliefs. As a result, modern urban religious groups such as União do Vegetal and Santo Daime were established, characterized by ritual use of ayahuasca. During the last three decades Santo Daime and UDV churches have spread out from the Amazon basin, consolidating their activities in major cities throughout Brazil, Europe and USA. This process raised significant legal controversies about the legitimacy of ayahuasca use in western settings because psychedelics are proscribed in these societies. One of the core questions of these controversies is that these novel religions removed ayahuasca from its original cultural context and introduced it to people whose culture would not be familiar with any religious use of psychedelics. Therefore, the effects of ayahuasca would not have religious meaning for these people. However, a study conducted by the author demonstrated that the ayahuasca experience has a profound religious meaning even to western urban subjects who experience it for the first time in União do Vegetal or UDV ritual settings. This study also points out that ayahuasca experiences are assimilated according to the previous religious itineraries and beliefs of the subjects. So, the argument of cultural illegitimacy is relativized even for people who are not used to these kind of experiences.

“The Legal Status of Entheogens: Issues of “Set and Setting”
Marc Blainey
[email protected]

My paper will focus on the ambiguous legal status of psychoactive substances arguing for a reformation of their traditional repute based on a right-wrong dichotomy, towards a new perception of the resultant experiences prioritizing the individual motivations (set) and the environmental context (setting). The substances under discussion can be termed hallucinogens or psychedelics when used by party goers or the inquisitive in casual settings, while they are labeled entheogens, in an attempt to categorize empathetically, with regards to their earnest ritual use in religious settings. Hence, the same chemicals’ induction of altered states of consciousness appears to be context-dependent; much like heavy machinery, weapons, and human ideologies as a whole, these substances can be used for good or bad ends depending upon the experience and intentions of theindividual/s involved.

In scholarly circles, the importance of “set and setting” has become a standard principle but there is a palpable disconnect between opinions of the Academy and the general layman. The recent public announcements of High Court rulings in the U.S. and Holland along with accepted scientific results, all supporting the spiritual benefits of entheogens within safe and serious settings, portend shifting trends in the law. My argument will develop the concepts and implications of “set and setting” relative to entheogen intoxication in an effort to elucidate the most appropriate legal status of these substances. Like many aspects of the public trust, these powerful substances most plausibly have both an illicit and a constructive capacity that must be accounted for by instituting a proportional regulation in the law.

“Forensic Strategies, Religious Motives? Culture, Politics and Common Sense in the Santo Daime and União do Vegetal related legal disputes for legalization in the US”

Alberto Groisman
[email protected]

This paper aims to present, analyze and discuss discourse, strategies and styles of forensic expression found in the public documents assembled and produced in the context of the legal disputes, concerning sacramental practices, existence and activities of the so calledAyahuasca Religions in the US. The Ayahuasca Religions are organizations founded in Brazil in the 20th Century with the aim of congregating people interested in the use of the psychoactive Ayahuasca, used traditionally in South America, and made from the ritual preparation of alkaloids containing plants, which one is classified as chemical compound (DMT) as of illicit use in the US.

The main focus of the paper is to argue that in judicial processes regarding religion, and particularly a justification of religious use of a substance recognized as “dangerous” or “risky” for human use, a great deal of complex and inconsistency can be encountered at the discourse of protagonists, regarding their lack of extensive knowledge, experiential or empirical experience. In this sense, discourse circularity and political positioning may influence and constitute the legal discourse, challenging the pursuit of legal recognitionand legitimacy for these religious systems practices.

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