Federal government asks for review of hallucinogenic tea case

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2003

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) The U.S. Justice Department wants the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to rehear a case involving the ceremonial use of hallucinogenic tea by a New Mexico church.

A 10th Circuit panel on Sept. 4 upheld a lower court ruling that the church's use of the tea was likely to be protected by freedom of religion.

Hoasca tea, brewed from plants found only in the Amazon River Basin, contains a drug barred by the Controlled Substances Act.

The U.S. attorney general, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other government agencies are seeking to stop the Brazil-based church, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, from using the tea.

Jeffrey Bronfman, president of the church, sued the Justice Department after 30 gallons of the drink were seized by U.S. Customs agents from his office in Santa Fe. No one was arrested.

The church's U.S. headquarters are in Santa Fe and it claims about 130 members around the country, according to court documents.

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