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Santo Daime Wins Court Decision
Allowing the Use and Importation of Ayahuasca
by Earth Erowid
v1.1 - Feb 6, 2012
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On March 18, 2009, a U.S. District Court judge, Owen Panner, found that the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the Santo Daime's use of DMT-containing ayahuasca as part of their sincere religious practices.

This U.S. District Court (the lowest type of U.S. federal court) based its decision on a U.S. Supreme Court decision from February 2006 in a case where the UDV (another ayahuasca-using church) sought a preliminary injunction to stop the DEA from seizing the ayahuasca they import into the United States. The Supreme Court granted that preliminary injunction in favor of the UDV.

Judge Panner writes, "Guided by the unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court in a very similar case, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao de Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006), I conclude that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb to 2000bb-4, requires that plaintiffs be allowed to import and drink Daime tea for their religious ceremonies, subject to reasonable restrictions."

"Plaintiffs have established their prima facie claim by more than a preponderance of the evidence. Plaintiffs have established that they are sincere in their religious beliefs, and that the ceremonial use of the Daime tea is essential to their religion. It is obvious that prohibiting the use of Daime tea would substantially burden the exercise of plaintiffs' religion."

"The government has failed to show that outright prohibition of the Daime tea is the least restrictive means of furthering its interests."

"Plaintiffs are entitled to relief under RFRA. Judgment will be entered for plaintiffs in accordance with this opinion."

In 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to re-issue their order because it was overly broad. In January 2012, the court re-issued their order more simply, disallowing the federal government (DEA) from interfering with the church's use of ayahuasca. The judge's second order states simply: "Defendants are enjoined from prohibiting plaintiffs' importation, storage, distribution, and use of Daime tea for plaintiffs' religious ceremonies."

This ruling allows the Santo Daime church to legally import and use ayahuasca tea in their religious practices without being in violation of federal law.

You can read the full court decision here.

Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Mar 18, 2009 - Earth Erowid - First publication.
  • v1.1 - Feb 6, 2012 - Earth Erowid - Update after re-issued order in Jan 2012.