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Bubbling with Controversy: Legal Challenges for Ceremonial Ayahuasca Circles in the United States

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The use of ayahuasca has been spreading rapidly worldwide; however, no current statistics are available to provide a comprehensive understanding of the scope or pace of this expansion. In the United States, the expansion has included the appearance of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions Santo Daime and União do Vegetal (UDV), underground ceremonial circles, workshops with itinerant Amazonian shamans, and spiritual retreat centers. This trend has included the recent emergence of groups and organizations that publicly advertise “legal” ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats. This chapter maps the existence of a series of organizations and actors who have controversially claimed legal protection through incorporation as “branches” of the Native American Church (NAC). The legality, religious character, and sincerity of these churches are reviewed in light of governing law, such as the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and pertinent court cases involving the UDV and the Santo Daime, as well as ethnographic accounts of the historical Native American Church. Finally, it examines a petition for a religious exemption from the CSA from Ayahuasca Healings and speculates on the possibilities of the future of ayahuasca legality in the United States.

Feeney, K., Labate, B. C., & Hudson, J. H. (2018). Bubbling with Controversy: Legal Challenges for Ceremonial Ayahuasca Circles in the United States. Plant Medicines, Healing and Psychedelic Science: Cultural Perspectives, 87-111. 10.1007/978-3-319-76720-8_6
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