2006 – The United States Supreme Court Allows UDV Church Legal Right to Drink Hoasca (Ayahuasca)
Ayahuasca legality is a complex topic in the United States and around the world. In many countries, the brew is illegal and its distribution and consumption can incur heavy penalties. But on Feb. 21, 2006, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that União do Vegetal (UDV) church has the legal right to use “hoasca” (ayahuasca) in its ceremonies.
The UDV had sued the US government after the government seized their sacrament in 1999. The court’s position had been that the national DMT regulations do apply to ayahuasca. However, per the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by the US Congress in 1994, the government had the burden of proof to show that it could be harmful to allow a religious exemption to the law for the UDV to use their sacrament, and the court ultimately ruled that the government had failed to demonstrate that.
Following this decision, an incorrect impression spread that the court had made a broad decision to allow all religious use of ayahuasca. In fact, exemptions were to be made only on a case-to-case basis. Ayahuasca legality is a complicated issue and the UDV ruling does not imply all those claiming to operate a church could legally use ayahuasca in the United States.
Roberts, John, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (2006). Opinion on Gonzales, Attorney General, et al v O Centro Espiritu Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal et al. Google Scholar.