2001 – Santo Daime Given Religious Exemption for Ayahuasca Use in the Netherlands
At their 2001 trial for drug trafficking, Santo Daime church leaders in the Netherlands presented a letter sent by Herbert Schaepe, secretary of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, which stated the UN position on ayahuasca: “No plants (natural materials) containing DMT are at present controlled under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Consequently, preparations (e.g. decoctions) made of these plants, including ayahuasca, are not under international control and, therefore, not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention.”
The Dutch court ruled in favor of the Santo Daime church on the basis of religious freedom, not the letter itself. The Dutch court affirmed that ayahuasca falls under the law against DMT and that it thus remains generally illegal, but ruled that the Santo Daime merited a religious exemption by the law.
But the letter establishes that UN member countries, although required by treaty to outlaw DMT, were not required to include ayahuasca under the law against DMT. It is up to each country to interpret the law against DMT and decide whether it covers ayahuasca or not. This means that ayahuasca is in a legal gray area in every country until a specific law or court case clarifies the its status in that country.
The Netherlands has one of the most relaxed legislatures in the world when it comes to psychedelic use and even commercialization. Aside from Santo Daime, ayahuasca was unregulated for the general public until a Supreme Court decision of October 2019, which finally curtailed the use of the Amazonian psychedelic brew. Still, underground ayahuasca ceremonies are abound around Amsterdam, and ayahuasca and pharmahuasca ingredients can be easily found in the myriad online and offline shops based in the Netherlands.
Highpine, G. (2015). Is Ayahuasca Actually Illegal In the United States? Bia Labate website
Tupper, K. W. and Labate, B. (2012). Plants, Psychoactive Substances, and the Narcotics Control Board: The Control of Nature and the Nature of Control. Human Rights and Drugs, Vol II No 1, 2012.