When Is Drinking Ayahuasca a Religious Experience?

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) has a large bureaucrat responsible for investigating the tenets behind psychedelic church practices. This unlikely job is involved in Arizona’s legal problems encountered by the Vine of Light Church.

The group hosted monthly meetings in which guests could drink Ayahuasca (a powerful, highly psychoactive herbal brew from South America), and paid for them. These gatherings were ended by a federal drug taskforce raiding the Phoenix home Clay Villanueva’s pastor in May 2019.

According to the task force, it seizes dozens of pounds of Ayahuasca along with marijuana and psilocybin mushroom. Villanueva wasn’t arrested for the crime until 18 months after it was discovered that he had a Maricopa County warrant. Now, he is accused of being the owner and operator an illegal drug company.

This raid took place 12 days after Villanueva, a co-founder of the North American Association of Visionary Churches was sued by the DEA under Section 133 of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Supreme Court interpreted that 1993 law to allow qualified religious groups to possess and import ayahuasca. It contains dimethyltryptamine (a Schedule I controlled substance). However, the groups must petition the DEA to be exempted from the Controlled Substances Act. They will need to prove that their ayahuasca practice isn’t a weekend escape for psychedelic tourists, but a genuine religious practice.

According to the NAAVC, the DEA has retaliated against groups who file RFRA petitions. The NAAVC also claims that the permit process violates RFRA’s 2006 Supreme Court ruling. This ruling states that RFRA required the government to review religious freedom claims, and, if there is a compelling public interest, allow exceptions for illegal drug use.

To highlight the absurdity of drugs wars, there is no better way to do it than to charge federal narcs for examining religious beliefs of group like Vine of Light Church. It does not matter if the would-be ayahuasca smugglers truly believe in shamanism. Or merely believe they will benefit from it. Vine of Light guests included domestic violence victims and combat veterans who found the ritual helped them to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

A former Congregant said that the raid and Villaneuva’s arrest had “wrecked many things and hurt lots of people.” Phoenix New Times. Clay did something truly good for this world. The government busybodies are determined to make sure ayahuasca-users are subject to dogma.