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Peyote’s Race Problem

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In the years since peyote became a controlled substance in Mexico and the US, a steady stream of advocates and activists have laid claim to two types of exemption, rooted in both US Law (the First Amendment) and International Law (the 1971 Vienna Convention on Psychotropic Drugs). Indigenous peyotists in particular have been largely successful in making a claim to a legal right to be exempt from national prohibitions on peyote possession and consumption. This has represented a significant advance in indigenous rights, yet in both contexts it has had the unpleasant effect of signaling that a drug that is otherwise so dangerous as to be prohibited should be permitted for Indians, because they are somehow essentially different from all other citizens. This, then, is Peyote’s Race Problem. The ways in which we have created a legal framework that makes peyote use licit among indigenous peoples has hardened a certain notion of profound, an unalterable difference to the point that Indian bodies are said to be incommensurably different from the bodies of others who might desire to consume peyote, but for whom it is deemed too dangerous. This notion of difference has been exacerbated by the increasing scarcity of peyote in the US and Mexico, which as further racialized the spaces where peyote grows.

Dawson, A. (2018). Peyote’s race problem. Plant Medicines, Healing and Psychedelic Science: Cultural Perspectives, 19-35. 10.1007/978-3-319-76720-8_2
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