Drug Policy

Behind the Red Door

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In the London Times, Steve Boggan describes his experience taking tea with Santo Daime followers in Brazil:

I am deep in the Amazon rainforest, anxiously losing my mind as the world begins to disintegrate. Around me, all sense of distance is wrapping itself up like spatial origami, slowly shrinking until an entire dimension has disappeared. A moment ago, I was surrounded by 200 people dressed in white and singing like angels, but now they occupy the same space as me.

Wherever I look, that is where I am. I can see everything from every angle, all at the same time. In fact, I feel I am everywhere. Outside, in the forest, the thrum of frogs and cicadas drowns out the sound of shrieking monkeys. Below me, the floor is shimmering, vanishing in waves like a spent mirage. Behind, I feel a cold vibration on my neck and sense a growling malevolence. I turn and see a red door, bulging at the hinges. Overcome with dread, I push hard to keep it closed, and all the while I feel a horrible nausea.

The tea in question, ayahuasca, contains the psychedelic dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is legal for religious use in Brazil but banned in most of the world, including the U.K., where hundreds of Santo Daime adherents meet clandestinely to take their sacrament. The religion also has attracted followers elsewhere in Europe but is legally protected only in the Netherlands. And in the U.S.—maybe. As I reported in my June 2007 reason article about religious use of drugs, Uniao do Vegetal, another Brazilian sect that uses ayahusca, has won relief from government harassment under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Logically speaking, the law also should protect Santo Daime, which has similar beliefs and practices, but the question has not been litigated.

Still, here is one way in which the U.S. is more civilized/enlightened/tolerant (take your pick) than most of Europe. Not only did a tiny, obscure sect win the right to use an otherwise illegal drug through a unanimous Supreme Court interpretation of a statute that passed Congress almost unanimously, but it did so with the support of mainstream  religious groups such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, and the National Association of Evangelicals. You can mention this counterexample the next time you hear a Europhilic progressive bemoan our lack of socialized medicine and fondness for guns.

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  1. Now if these same groups would let every-frickin-body else make their own decisions about what stuff to ingest …

  2. I’m sure this has been asked before, but have Rastafarians filed for the same protections? One would think religious tokin’ would be more acceptable than religious trippin’, although I suppose this is the government we’re talking about.

  3. No, prolefeed. You may only be trusted with these things if you have found God and got religion.

    We can’t have pesky materialist Atheists running around using dangerous chemicals, can we?

  4. We can’t have pesky materialist Atheists running around using dangerous chemicals, can we?

    Ooo…ooo… I just thought of a great idea for a children’s book.

  5. Taktix–

    I am pretty sure Rastafarians have tried this tack and failed, but I don’t have time to do any searching right now.

  6. IIANM, most of these court decisions provide for the current practitioners of the religion to practice.

    As far as I can see, the problem arises when someone wants to convert.

    For example, while the Native American Church is permitted to use peyote in its rituals, it is impossible for anyone to convert to said church. Adherence is determined by the fact that 1) one is already an adherent as of the court decision and 2) one is actually a Native American. Sorry, people, but I see serious equal protection issues here.

  7. Issac,

    Agreed. Ostensibly, the law is to prevent people from converting just for the drugs (or the jokes, in the case of Judaism).

    However, I dare anyone to find a Christian pastor who would take coverts that said they were just there for the wine. I imagine the same goes for the rest.

    If a bunch of hippies showed up on a reservation one day, desiring to covert to Seminole spiritual practices, I imagine they’d receive a very cold reception.

    Therefore (like it needs to be stated), the government is just trying to fight the WoD.

    Same war, different battleground.

  8. You can mention this counterexample the next time you hear a Europhilic progressive bemoan our lack of socialized medicine and fondness for guns.

    My religion requires me, among other things, to live in the woods, have my social and medical needs tended by capable women, and be armed.

  9. Still, here is one way in which the U.S. is more civilized/enlightened/tolerant (take your pick) than most of Europe

    Most European countries still have established churches which are supported by compulsory taxation. When it comes to many matters of basic civil rights, Europe has standards which would cause the vast majority of Americans to absolutely freak. Ex. In Holland, authorities can hold someone without charge for 120 days. France has jury trials for only the most serious cases and even then a panel of judges also sits judgement.

    America is the most diverse and free society in human history. It behooves us to remember that and to struggle to keep it that way.

  10. Taktix,

    Therefore (like it needs to be stated), the government is just trying to fight the WoD.

    Actually, it doesn’t have much to do with the war on drugs. The legal conundrum of how to accommodate the religious/cultural practices of foreigners which conflict with established law dates back for centuries.

    For example, polygamous marriages. Polygamous marriages are illegal in America but American law recognizes polygamous marriages established in other cultures. A muslim who resides in America but who is not a citizen can go back to the old country, pick up a couple of wives and come back with them and have the marriage recognized. A muslim who is a citizen, however, can not.

    As the world gets smaller we’ll face these kinds of questions more and more. They might eventually cause government to get out the whole culture regulation business entirely.

  11. Logically speaking, the law should…

    They might eventually cause government to get out the whole culture regulation business entirely.

    ROTFL.

  12. Oooh…the colors…

  13. You can mention this counterexample the next time you hear a Europhilic progressive bemoan our lack of socialized medicine and fondness for guns.

    Until the government gets its nose out of religion entirely, I wouldn’t run around bragging. (I’d like to see the list they must be keeping of “valid” religions.)

  14. A muslim who resides in America but who is not a citizen can go back to the old country, pick up a couple of wives and come back with them and have the marriage recognized. A muslim who is a citizen, however, can not.

    I’m gonna need a cite for that, Shannon. Marriage is defined by state law, and while I haven’t seen all 50 states worth, I’m pretty familiar with a couple, and there isn’t anything in there that would work that way.

    Texas law on the subject (Penal Code 25.01):

    An individual commits an offense if:
    (1) he is legally married and he:
    (A) purports to marry or does marry a person other than his spouse in this state, or any other state or foreign country, under circumstances that would, but for the actor’s prior marriage, constitute a marriage; (emphasis supplied)

  15. Speaking of government giving special rights to religions, that Mormon cult thing has gotten me to thinking: Libertarians should create a religion. More of an ironic one, but still. Then create little communities all over that adhere to the “Divine principle” of freedom being neccessary for morality or whatever. If these backwards-ass (not an insult) Mormons and the Amish can do it, surely libertarians with their internet skills could do just as well.

  16. Europhilic progressive bemoan our lack of socialized medicine and fondness for guns.

    Europeans do have a fondness for guns. For instance, there was this one time when a European country overran Poland and the rest of Western Europe using guns.

    *ducks*

  17. I am pretty sure Rastafarians have tried this tack and failed, but I don’t have time to do any searching right now.

    No fear, brother, the Rastas just didn’t have the ambition to do any litigating right now, either. 🙂

  18. Below me, the floor is shimmering, vanishing in waves like a spent mirage. Behind, I feel a cold vibration on my neck and sense a growling malevolence. I turn and see a red door, bulging at the hinges. Overcome with dread, I push hard to keep it closed, and all the while I feel a horrible nausea.

    I would definitely try this stuff. It sounds like a good time. Really.

  19. Europeans do have a fondness for guns. For instance, there was this one time when a European country overran Poland and the rest of Western Europe using guns.

    One time? Back to school for you.

  20. Isaac Bartram writes “For example, while the Native American Church is permitted to use peyote in its rituals, it is impossible for anyone to convert to said church. Adherence is determined by the fact that 1) one is already an adherent as of the court decision and 2) one is actually a Native American. Sorry, people, but I see serious equal protection issues here.”

    Not true. The question of the racial composition of the NAC was litigated by the UDV and it was demonstrated that the NAC accepts non indians and that the DEA recognizes non indians as legitimate adherents. Unfortunately, the judge threw out the Equal Protection element of UDV’s litigation. Why is not totally clear. One possibility is that he didn’t want to rock the NAC’s boat and he knew that the UDV would win on the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act argument alone.

  21. “No fear, brother, the Rastas just didn’t have the ambition to do any litigating right now, either.”

    “Yah Man, we must go fight for our right to religious tokin'”
    “Yah, but first let us take a toke of da ganja…”

    (lights spliff and puffs, puffs, puffs)

    “Hey rasta, wasn’t there something we had to do?”
    “Ahh, dunno man. Any of that jerk chicken left?”

  22. I would definitely try this stuff. It sounds like a good time. Really.

    Keep researching.

    Ayahuasca is also known for inducing simultaneous projectile vomiting and diarrhea. Fun!

  23. Ayahuasca is also known for inducing simultaneous projectile vomiting and diarrhea. Fun!

    Always? Seems like it wouldn’t be used very often by the Santo Daime adherents if that were the case. But if the opportunity presents itself, I will do the research. I once had my whiskey spiked with PCP and have no desire to repeat that experience.

  24. “How intense is ayahuasca? Put it this way: If at some point during the trip you don’t feel certain you are dying, then you’ve underdosed…”

    Beginning to one of the funniest chapters in recent publishing.

  25. I am reading DMT: The Spirit Molecule right now and I absolutely want to try DMT. DMT is endogenous to humans. It is produced in the pineal gland and it is speculated to be responsible for our dreams and for near death/natural hallucinations. Also, we get a shot of DMT 49 days after conception (the same time as gonadal differentiation) and just prior to death.

    For whatever reason… DMT gets to pass right through the blood-brain barrier. It is as if our brains hunger for it.

    But it is not a social or recreational drug. It is not fun (for lack of a better word). People tend to have profound experiences with the drug.

  26. DMT and the pineal gland appear to be linked w/ consciousness or our souls or whatever you would like to call it.

  27. Thanks for the correction, Examiner.

  28. DMT is actually illegal in Brazil. The use of ayahuasca is tolerated for now, particularly in the context of the big syncretic ayahuasca churches UDV and Santo Daime.

    And, there is no actual evidence that DMT is produced by the pineal gland. That’s a very speculative hypothesis by Dr. Strassman and there is currently no direct evidence to support it. Dr. Strassman is investigating the hypothesis with his non-profit Cottonwood Research Foundation.

  29. Texas law on the subject (Penal Code 25.01):

    An individual commits an offense if:
    (1) he is legally married and he:
    (A) purports to marry or does marry a person other than his spouse in this state, or any other state or foreign country, under circumstances that would, but for the actor’s prior marriage, constitute a marriage;

    Note what that says: that it’s illegal for a Texan to commit bigamy in another country if it’s illegal in that country. Not if it’s legal.

  30. Thanks for the lively conversation/read.
    What a pleasure to find a community of edgy, honest, living inquiry.

    As a newcomer to Reason Magazine (my Google Alerts report a for “DMT” linked me up with this article just 5 mins ago) I’d sound off/test respectfully on a couple points:

    1. Anyone who is NOT insulted (move to righteous rebellion?) by the presumption on the part of any other person or group to deem as unfit/unsafe/out-of-bounds, not to mention legislatively codify and penalize, the cultivation and use (ingestion, inhalation, tincture…) of the plants, fungi, etc. of the nature-matrix which gives rise to us and upon whos health,power, balance, and wisdom we, as organic creatures, obviously depend, is either deeply asleep at the wheel of life or utterly unaware of the liberating value of humanity’s most ancient, potent, authentic, and sacred rights of passage.

    2. Outside the promising, ‘dangerous’, experiential, no-turning-back doorways of the entheogenic tremendum (here embossed with the sign of the mushroom, there the vine, and over there the mint) all conversation/debate on the topic, while fascinating and to measured degrees helpful where sincere and REASONable, is ultimately falling short of its highest potential (*grin*) if it does not lead one, at least the authentic experiential adventurers in our posse, to avail oneself of the wonders of vegetable gnosis, the revelations that await on the other side of such boundary dissolution/disillusion.

    3. (topic change to the tune of the Monty Python intro theme)
    And now for something completely different…

    “Reason Online
    …free minds, free markets.”

    oooookaaaaay:

    Is is presumed here to be REASONable that FREE MINDS would choose FREE MARKETS?
    Hmmm.
    What would, for example, the thinkers that thunk-up this, yes catchy, magazine’s tagline think of “Balanced Minds, Balanced Markets” or “Fair Minds, Fair Markets” or “Free Minds, Open Hearts, Balanced Markets”???

    The conversation I’d love to inspire here would revolve around the thesis:

    “Since only healthy bodies, whole compassionate hearts, and restful, open, well educated brains are the fertile ground for the arising of a FREE MIND, so too then if follows that only whole-systems thinking and sustainability-centered, symbiosis-consequent, earth-nature honoring MARKETS are actually, in the best or most inclusive sense of the word, FREE.”.

    Right?

    Any takers?
    :-))

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