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Ayahuasca Plants Seized by DEA
Caapi, D. cabrerana, and Tobacco seized by DEA and importer charged with drug crime
Collected by Erowid
Mar 2001
On January 31, 2001, the DEA seized 300 kilograms of dried Banisteriopsis caapi vine (ayahuasca), 100 kilograms of Diplopterys cabrerana (an ayahuasca admixture plant), and an unspecified amount of black tobacco which had been imported from Peru. According to unconfirmed posts to, the shipment was made from Peru with all the appropriate licenses and there was no evidence of intent to use the plants to produce a controlled substance.

The current legal status of B. caapi (the ayahuaca vine) in the United States is very clear: it is completely legal. It contains no chemicals which are controlled under federal or state law and it is not listed as controlled by any Controlled Substance Act. The status of D. cabrerana is somewhat more complicated because it is an N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (N,N-DMT) containing admixture plant for ayahuasca brews. N,N-DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance under US Federal law and the position of Drug Police and Drug Prosecutors in the US is that any plant that contains a controlled substance is itself a controlled substance (the status of psilocybin-containing mushrooms is very similar and has been handled by many courts).

In the case of DMT, however, this interpretation of the law leads to absurd results and cannot possibly be upheld as a litmus test since literally thousands of common plants and the human body itself contains measureable amounts of N,N-DMT. The courts will be faced with balancing the seemingly insatiable thirst by Drug Police for more arbitrary power to declare any plant or chemical "illegal" against the rights of people and businesses to possess and sell plants that could potentially be used to produce psychoactive effects. The outcome of this case as it proceeds could be one of the many new battlegrounds in the failing War on Drugs as it tries to declare the legitimate religious use of ayahuasca as a threat to safety, the rule of law, and "the message" that drugs are always bad.

The following two descriptions of the situation are unconfirmed. If anyone has any information or URLs that confirm these descriptions, please let us know.

March 28, 2001

by Peter Gorman, Special to HighWitness News
FILED 02/01/01

Despite the fact that the plant materials themselves are legal, and that the shipment from Peru came from a licensed plant dealer and was cleared by Customs and the Department of Agriculture in both Peru and the US, the DEA swooped down on the home of the shipment's recipient and seized the nearly 2,000 pounds of dried plant matter without explanation. In the largest-ever seizure of plant materials that could be used to make ayahuasca, a joint task force of local Atlanta police and DEA agents raided a home in a suburban area of that city on Jan. 31 and took more than 1,500 pounds of banisteriopsis caapi vine, psychotria viridis leaves and wild black tobacco.

The plants, harvested in Peru and shipped to the US by a licensed plant dealer for distribution to wholesalers in both Europe and the States, had all the legal paperwork required by both Peru and the US. The shipment had been held up earlier for nearly a week at US Customs in Atlanta, when the US Department of Agriculture said they found a number of microscopic insects on some of the leaves. The USDA released them Jan. 30 after the insects were found to be harmless.

In recent months the DEA has been taking an interest in ayahuasca, the legendary visionary and healing plant of the Amazon. Four separate busts have been made in Western states in the last year, though no one has been arrested for its use. Ayahuasca, a brew made by slowly cooking the vine and leaves, contains DMT, a Schedule I substance on the DEA's controlled-substances list, and is therefore illegal. But the plants used to make the brew are not.

The plants seized in the Jan. 31 raid were clearly marked "not for human consumption" and "for taxonomic study only." Despite the legality of the plants, nearly a dozen police and DEA agents, all wearing Kevlar bullet-proof vests, swooped down on the home of the man receiving the plants--after they'd been cleared by both Customs and the USDA--and searched his home. The plants, still in shipping crates in the front yard, were not listed on the search warrant; neither was a home computer also seized in the raid, though it was included on the list of things the task force seized. The plants and their shipping boxes were not.

Because the plants were not listed among the seized items, the owner of the shipment, who wishes to remain anonymous at this time, sees the seizure as a simple theft by the DEA, as the plant material has a wholesale value of over $10,000. "They just stole my plants," he told HT. "How am I supposed to feed my family now?" The lead man in the operation, federal agent Lou Weiss, who works out of the DEA office at the Atlanta airport, would not comment on the seizure. Atlanta DEA spokesman Tyrone Yarn would only say "Because the investigation is ongoing, I am not permitted to say anything at this time."


From your reporter in Peru, here are the facts - The warrant was arranged on the imagination of two DEA agents that believed that the plants were going to be cooked up in the house of delivery. The warrant asked for the power to retrieve the cooking instruments and the computer where the formula would be found. So, the DEA assumed quite incorrectly that this house was THE house where the liquid is make and then shipped out via black markets. They found no cooking instruments what so ever, i.e. seized nothing there. They took the computer and disks. Nothing there either. The company that shipped it from Peru is quite confused as to what was illegal. As well, the receiving party in Atlanta is also quite confused. However, the owner of the home where the seizure of vegetable matter was made is an attorney with the EPA in Atlanta, her office being just one floor below the DEA in the Federal Building in Atlanta. Her Father and Grandfather were former Senators. Her son is the son of the shipper in Peru. They were hoping to begin a business selling dried plants. The Father in Peru is not even the owner of the company in Peru. It is owned by his wife, a Mother of two children, 3 and 2 years old. several professors from the University in Iquitos ship plant material. Have been for years. As well, there are numerous other companies that also are in business shipping legal dried plants for taxonomic identification. All ship with proper permits, re-forestry taxes paid, phytosanitario paperwork, etc... The son of the shipper has been threatened with 20 years in prison but was not arrested at the scene. The boxes confiscated contained approximately 300 Kilos of Banisteriopsis caapi and 125 kilos of d.cabrerana. Upon analysis of the dc, the DEA determined that the son, his mother and his aunt all living in the same house must be sitting around with a big kettle, stirring it up and making it into something that is illegal. 4 weeks prior to shipping the boxes out of Peru, the son applied for and received a license to sell dried plants. The shipper in Peru is now without an attorney, or funds for one. There must be some very good attorneys out there that can help both the shipper and the receiver. Especially since this is such a very very important case. Neither of the parties has any criminal record what so ever.

To clarify again, the shipment contained 100 Kg of DC. About 300 Kg of BC. So please, leave the TON out of this.