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UDV Ayahuasca Legal Case Begins in New Mexico
Nov 2001

Hallucinogenic Tea Case Starts in Albuquerque
October 28, 2001
by Tom Sharpe

© 2001 The New Mexican
Please read this article at its Original Location

Jeffrey Bronfman's quest to legalize an hallucinogenic tea for members of his sect finally reached court last week.

U.S. District Judge James Parker heard testimony for more than three days in Albuquerque, then recessed at mid-day Thursday with plans to resume Monday.

Bronfman, a member of a prominent Canadian family, for years held meetings at his Arroyo Hondo home where people would drink a tea known as hoasca, which contains the hallucinogen N.N. dimethyltryptamine, known as DMT.

That changed on May 21, 1999, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized 30 gallons of the tea from Bronfman's office on Valley Drive, on the north side of Santa Fe. No one was arrested or charged with any crime.

On Nov. 21, 2000, Bronfman, as president of the U.S. branch of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV), and other church members sued the DEA, alleging the government violated their constitutional right of freedom of religion. They said hoasca is an essential sacrament, like peyote is to the Native American Church.

Over the last year, more than 90 motions and other instruments have been logged into the electronic court docket, representing hundreds of hours of attorney time. The evidentiary hearing is expected to continue through this week. Bronfman seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the DEA from interfering with UDV's activities. A full trial could follow.

Bronfman told the court Monday that the government seizure of his tea has harmed "the core of my being," according to the Albuquerque Journal. He has declined to speak to the media. Acquaintances describe him as casual-dressing and low-key, in his 40s and increasingly secretive.

State corporation records show Bronfman was director of a for-profit called the Cañon Corp. founded in 1990 and since allowed to become inactive, and a nonprofit called the Aurora Foundation, founded in 1997 with others from Austin, Texas. Bronfman was divorced from Lucy Luzader Bronfman, with whom he has a 16-year-old child, on Sept. 28, 2000, in Las Cruces, according to court records.

The hoasca case comes at a time of change for the Bronfman family empire. The Bronfmans - the name means "whiskey man" in Yiddish - are one of North America's most famous families. The family patriarch immigrated from Russia to Canada in the 1800s, acquired distilleries and made Canadian whiskey world-famous.

The Seagrams Corp. reached its apex by the late 20th century when drinking habits in the U.S. began to change toward lower alcohol consumption. In the last decade, the company has come under criticism for tempting young people to drink by promoting its sweet mixers.

As Seagrams' chief executive officer, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Jeffrey Bronfman's cousin, diversified the company into media and entertainment, buying Universal Pictures. The elder Bronfmans are known as art collectors and philanthropists for Jewish and Israeli charities. Earlier this year, the French firm Vivendi, which began as a water utility, purchased Seagrams for an estimated $6.8 billion.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Elizabeth Goitein and Adam Zueben of Washington, D.C., who are handling the government's defense, were not available for comment.

Nancy Hollander, who is representing Bronfman, said Thursday she has called seven witnesses, including Bronfman and José Luiz de Oliviera, the head of the church in Brazil. Among her five expert witnesses was Charles Grob of the psychiatry department at the University of California at Los Angeles. According to one article by Grob, UDV originated in the early 1930s when a Brazilian rubber tapper tried hoasca prepared by Amazonian Indians. Over the next four decades, UDV grew to about 7,000 members; the Brazilian government legalized use of the tea in 1987, Grob wrote.

Hollander said the government on Thursday morning called its first expert witness, Lorne Dawson, a Canadian sociologist, and will continue Monday with a physician from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

UDV has compared its practices to the Native American Church's use of the hallucinogenic cactus peyote. Native American Church founder Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche leader and a white woman captured as a child by Indians. His life is one of the most enduring folk stories in Texas and Oklahoma.

But UDV chafes at the comparison to Santo Daime, another Brazilian religion that uses a similar concoction of Amazonian plants for a DMT-based tea known as ayahuasca.

In January, Hollander objected to stories published in the National Post of Toronto, Canada, that linked UDV to Santo Daime, a name derived from the Portuguese words for "holy give."

In March, however, Ron S. Haber, a Eugene, Ore., attorney representing the Santo Daime Church of the Holy Light of the Queen in Ashland, Ore., sought permission to file an amicus curae, or friendly brief, in the case. He said federal authorities refuse to recognize ayahuasca as a religious sacrament, despite negotiations, entreaties from U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and invitations for government agents to participate in Santo Daime services.

"The Department of Justice has, for the most part, treated the factual and legal issues raised by the plaintiffs in this case (UDV) in a similar fashion as it has regarding the Santo Daime Church," Haber wrote. In May, Judge Parker rejected Santo Daime's motion to enter the case.

UDV supports Santo Daime's analysis of issues, but opposes its attempt to "participate in the development of the evidentiary record in this case," Parker wrote. In her letter to the Toronto newspaper objecting to their articles, Hollander also said their comparison between hoasca and LSD was wrong.

"Within the religious ritual of the UDV, the tea is used as an instrument to increase perception and facilitate mental concentration for the religious work and spiritual studies that occur within the ceremonies," Hollander wrote. "The religious use of the tea within the UDV neither causes hallucinations - as erroneously reported - nor are they desired within the sect."

Other plaintiffs in the case include UDV members from Colorado, Texas, California and Washington. Santa Fe residents listed as plaintiffs include Almeida Dias, a Brazilian native, and Solar Law, the son of Lisa Law, known for her photographs of counter-culture figures in the 1960s and 1970s.

Patricia Chavez, spokesperson for the New Mexico district of U.S. District Court, said the hearing, expected to last through Friday, could result in Parker denying or granting a preliminary injunction. Hollander said a trial could follow Parker's decision.

Attorney: Tea's drug found in many plants
November 1, 2001
by Tom Sharpe

© 2001 The New Mexican
Please read the article at its Original Location.

ALBUQUERQUE - An attorney for a Santa Fe-based religious organization brought to federal court on Wednesday two potted plants that she said contain hallucinogenic compounds.

Nancy Hollander, representing O Centro Espirta Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, or UDV, said the phalaris grass and San Pedro cactus were purchased recently at two Albuquerque nurseries.

She said the plants contain, respectively, dimethyltryptamine - or DMT - and mescaline, and questioned a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent why no effort has been made to confiscate them.

Hollander is trying to get a preliminary injunction blocking the federal government from interfering with the group's practice of drinking a tea called hoasca that contains small amounts of DMT.

Arroyo Hondo resident Jeffrey Bronfman, president of the U.S. chapter of UDV, and other church members say hoasca should be considered a religious sacrament, like the peyote used by members of the Native American Church.

The DEA and other federal agencies confiscated 30 gallons of the tea from Bronfman's office in Santa Fe on May 21, 1999. No one has been charged with a crime in the case.

The evidentiary hearing before U.S. District Judge James Parker began on Oct. 22, and is expected to continue through Friday. A full trial could follow.

On Wednesday, Hollander cross-examined DEA agent Terrence Woodworth who said he found numerous solicitations for phalaris grass, San Pedro cactus and other hallucinogenic plants on the Internet, including on eBay.

Woodworth said he was not aware of DEA efforts to confiscate these plants or charge those offering them for sale.

Elizabeth Goiten, an assistant U.S. attorney handling the government defense, declined to stipulate that the plants sitting on the plaintiff's table in the courtroom actually contained DMT or mescaline. But she agreed that some plants of those varieties did contain these hallucinogens.

Parker urged the two attorneys to get together after court recessed to work out a stipulation so the plants and sales receipts from the nurseries can be introduced as evidence.