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UDV Wins Preliminary Injunction
Against the Treatment of Ayahuasca as a Schedule I Substance
by Erowid
Aug 2002
See also:
UDV wins Supreme Court decision on Preliminary Injunction (Feb 2006)
UDV wins appelate decision (2004)
UDV's Ayahuasca Trial Starts (November, 2001)
Full Text of Decision (PDF) - 500K
Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics Analysis of decision
Santa Fe New Mexican News Coverage (Aug 18, 2002)

The Uniao De Vegetal (UDV)-USA won a preliminary injunction ruling in New Mexico, on August 12, 2002, when a judge ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) would likely protect their use of ayahuasca.

While this is far from the end of the legal battle for the U.S. ayahuasca churches, who have primarily tried to stay out of the way of the DEA over the last decade, it is certainly a favorable beginning. Judge James Parker of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, in an extensive 61 page ruling, examined a wide variety of issues surrounding the ceremonial use of ayahuasca, including testimony by Charles Grob, Mark Kleiman, and Dave Nichols. The judge denied most of the motions made by the UDV, but did agree with them that the U.S. Federal Government's attempted ban on ayahuasca, an N,N-DMT containing tea, did not meet the Religious Freedom Restoration Act's high standards.

In the end, Judge Parker found only the RFRA offered likely protection to the group. The RFRA requires one of the most extensive protections afforded by law, by requiring both that the government only infringe on the religious activities if it has a "compelling interest" and uses the "least restrictive means" available to satisfy that interest. This means that the government must show, for instance, that the use of hoasca poses a serious threat to its users or to the community and that they have taken every step possible to restrict the religion as little as possible. Judge Parker ruled that the government had failed, in this preliminary injunction hearing, to show that it had a compelling interest in protecting the country from the ceremonial use of ayahuasca.

He found on several counts that the government's arguments were not compelling. He evaluated the health risks to the users and found:
As to the subject of health risks, the evidence presented by the parties is, essentially, in equipoise. This Court cannot find, in light of the closeness of the evidence, that the Government has successfully carried its onerous burden on the issue of health risks to UDV members.
Judge Parker also examined the issue of whether the ayahuasca would be 'diverted' to non religious use and found:
As on the issue of health risks to UDV members, the parties have presented virtually balanced evidence on the risk of diversion issue. Again, this Court finds that the Government has failed to meet its difficult burden of showing a compelling interest in preventing the diversion of hoasca to illicit use.
The last question that was examined on the "compelling interest" test was whether the government was compelled to enforce the Controlled Substance Act in this way by international treaty. On that question, Judge Parker wrote:
Based on the analysis offered by the Plaintiffs, this Court finds that the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances does not apply to the hoasca tea used by the UDV. Therefore, the United States' interest in adhering to the Convention does not, in this case, represent a compelling reason for extending the CSR's ban on DMT to the UDV's ceremonial hoasca use.
Because this judge found that there was no compelling state interest for stopping the use of ayahuasca by legitimate religious groups, he did not rule on the question of whether the government had used the least restrictive means possible.

Since this is only a ruling on a preliminary injunction, the final outcome of the case is far from settled. It will certainly be interesting to continue to follow this case and the further arguments made by the Justice Department and the DEA that the use of ayahuasca tea by very small religious groups (ruled legal in several other countries) constitutes a dire threat to the health and well being of the United States.