Arizona Church Reaches Settlement with DEA To Allow Sacramental Use of Ayahuasca

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor has affirmed its members’ right to use ayahuasca for religious ceremonial purposes.

An Arizona church has reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies that allows the Indigenous religious organization to use the psychedelic brew ayahuasca for sacramental purposes. Under the agreement, the Church of the Eagle and the Condor (CEC) will be permitted to import, prepare and distribute ayahuasca to its members at religious ceremonies.

“The Church of the Eagle and the Condor has reached a settlement to secure its religious freedom and the right to use Ayahuasca as its sacrament,” the church wrote in an announcement of the settlement. “This is the first Indigenous-based church to receive recognition and protection.”

In 2022, the CEC filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection and the DEA after DHS officials seized shipments of ayahuasca intended for sacramental use by church members. The lawsuit also cited government threats that the church and its members could face prosecution under federal drug charges if they continued to import ayahuasca, which contains the psychedelic drug and Schedule I controlled substance DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine).

The settlement allows the CEC and its members to obtain and use ayahuasca in paste or liquid form under an exemption to the Controlled Substances Act. The concentrate will then be diluted with water into a ceremonial tea by church members for religious ceremonial purposes held in Phoenix. The settlement permits the DEA to take samples of imported shipments to confirm they contain ayahuasca and no controlled substances other than DMT. 

“This Agreement permits CEC to import, receive, manufacture, distribute, transport, securely store, and dispose of ayahuasca solely for CEC’s religious purposes,” the settlement reads. “CEC may not conduct any of these activities for non-religious purposes, including but not limited to recreational purposes. CEC may not use any DEA registrations subject to this Agreement to import, receive, manufacture, distribute, store, or use any other controlled substance.”

Ayahuasca is used in South America by Indigenous cultures and folk healers in spiritual and religious ceremonies. In recent years, the psychoactive brew has gained popularity with American celebrities including Aaron Rodgers, Will Smith, Miley Cyrus and others, who have used ayahuasca to take advantage of its purported mental health benefits.

CEC Ayahuasquero (sacramental practitioner) Joseph Tafur, M.D. said in a statement that the ceremonial use of ayahuasca “is an essential sacrament for our church.”

“Our ceremony is rooted in the Shipibo Amazonian tradition which has been passed down by countless generations,” he said. “Now, in fulfillment of the ancient Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, this tradition has come to North America.” 

“I am honored to be an Ayahuasquero with the CEC, and bring to our ceremony the care, respect, and reverence that it deserves,” Tafur continued, adding, “Our ancestral practice will continue to support the community and nourish our holistic well-being.” 

Belinda P. Eriacho, a CEC board member of Diné and A:shwii lineages, said that the settlement with the DEA “reaffirms our right to practice our spirituality as we have always known. It is a recognition by the U.S. government and an important milestone in honoring and validating indigenous belief systems. Prior to contact, indigenous peoples have used sacred plant medicines for healing and ceremony since time immemorial.”

“Our relationship with our plant relatives has always been an extension of our worldview. This has been interrupted by the imposition of governmental policies that have suppressed our way of life and demonstrated religious intolerance,” Eriacho continued. “This settlement is a significant step and acknowledgment of our spiritual beliefs as original peoples of the Americas.” 

1 comment

    The real questions though, should be:
    (1) Why did the DEA reach a ‘settlement’ with this church?
    (2) How much money in lawyers fees did this church have spend to reach this settlement?
    (3) Is the church having all their legal fees reimbursed by the DEA?
    (4) Does any other church or people re-acquire the same ‘god-given’ (LOL) right to consume ayahuasca?

    I’m pretty sure the answers to the above questions are:
    (1) The DEA conceded to a ’settlement’ because it knew it was going to lose its legal case and wanted to avoid the negative publicity derived from that loss – including the implication that other churchs/groups could use the same legal principles to gain the same/similar freedoms fro their sacraments if an ‘open’ court finding against the DEA was reached.
    (2) No doubt a HUGE amount of legal costs was required from the church to gain the ’settlement’ and i should add an equally huge amount of tax $$$ was spent by the DEA in trying to defeat the church, which of course they wouldn’t want publicised.
    (3) Because it’s an out of court ‘settlement’ most probably all the legal fees involved are the responsibility of each party involved i.e. the church ‘wins’ in one sense, but kind of ‘loses’ in another because they don’t have their legal fees reimbursed and the DEA kind of ‘wins’ in one sense because they probably won’t have any publicity highlighting their actual loss as well as the huge amount of tax $$$ they spent fighting the case.
    (4) Sadly the worst part of this outcome IMO is that virtually no one else outside this one church will re-acquire their legal right to consume Ayahuasca or any other religious sacrament. As I understand it (& i might be wrong) this out of court settlement means there’s technically no legal finding and therefore no ‘legal precedent’ set from the case – although of course in reality it will certainly embolden many others in their fight for adult U.S. citizens to re-acquire the right to do anything they want to their own body LOL.

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