USA: Psychedelic churches in Phoenix record court wins over legal status

The Phoenix New Times reports

Three years after law enforcement agents raided the home of Clay Villanueva — a Phoenix pastor steeped in the psychoactive brew known as ayahuasca — his lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration has been greenlit for trial.

Though he has since died, Villanueva’s Vine of Light church was once one of several ayahuasca churches in Arizona who are suing the government for legal status. In recent weeks, two of the churches have scored wins in court as they fight over their legal status.

On May 4, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that the case originally brought by Villanueva and a church in Tucson, the Arizona Yage Assembly, can move forward to trial. In March, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton allowed a claim by the Church of the Eagle and the Condor in Phoenix to move forward, rejecting the DEA’s requests to dismiss the case.

Charles Carreon, general counsel for the North American Association of Visionary Churches, a coalition of ayahuasca churches, and the attorney for AYA in its case against the DEA, applauded the recent rulings.

However, the legality of ayahuasca used for religious purposes remains murky. The landmark 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case brought by ayahuasca church O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal held that consumption of the drug for religious purposes exempts churches from prosecution under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to the church’s website, the case “has been cited in 1,200 Judicial Actions and Law Review articles.”

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