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Group Wins Hallucinogenic Tea Case

August 24, 2002

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ A federal judge has ruled that a Brazilian religious group that uses hallucinogenic tea in its ceremonies should get back a shipment of the substance seized by U.S. Customs agents.

U.S. District Judge James Parker found that church members’ rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act were being violated by withholding the tea.

Jeffrey Bronfman, president of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, or UDV, sued the U.S. Department of Justice after the Customs Bureau and the Drug Enforcement Agency seized 30 gallons (114 liters) of hoasca tea from his Santa Fe office in 1999. No one was arrested in the raid.

UDV used to hold ceremonies near Bronfman’s home southeast of Santa Fe, where members consumed the tea that contains N.N. dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a controlled substance.

The tea is brewed from plants found only in the Amazon River Basin. The religion originated in Brazil and its U.S. operations are based in Santa Fe.

In a 61-page opinion written Aug. 12, Parker rejected freedom of religion and equal protection claims raised by the church.

But he found that the government had failed to prove that the tea was dangerous.

Parker granted the UDV a preliminary injunction, but U.S. Justice Department lawyers could seek a stay while they appeal the case. It was not immediately clear whether government attorneys would appeal.

Both sides will meet Sept. 3 in the federal court in Albuquerque to determine how the religious group would be compensated.

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