Peyote has sparked controversy and suppression among the government. The drug contains many active elements, such as mescaline and other hallucinogens. The use of the drug dates back many centuries, with the plant being culturally significant to the Indians of Mexico and the North American tribes where it was used to cure physical illnesses such as toothache, fever, skin diseases, diabetes, breast pain and blindness.
Padre Andréa Pérez de Ribas, a seventeenth-century Jesuit, argued that Peyote was forbidden and punished since it was connected with “heathen rituals and superstitions” to contact evil spirits through “diabolic fantasies.” In Mexico, Christian missionaries banned the use of Peyote in religious practice and thus persecution resulted with Spanish conquerors condemning the drug for its ‘satanic trickery.’ Evidently, there is a clash of cultural values as some cultures perceive the drug to be a harmful substance as they have associated the medicine with ‘pagan associations.’
Due to the widespread use of peyote, the drug attracted the attention of many scientists. Nevertheless, between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S Authorities were concerned about the drug’s psychoactive effects and therefore banned Native American religious rituals involving peyote. In order to protect their rights and engage in free religious activity, American Indians organized the ‘Peyote cult,’ a religious group, known as the Native American Church. They used peyote in a religious manner, as part of a revitalization of spirituality. Peyote is said to produce a mental state that allows its users to feel closer to God. In 1970, the state of Texas legalized peyote for use by Native Americans in religious ceremonies.
In 2010, an American Indian church sued state and federal police and prosecutors over the right of its members to use peyote in religious ceremonies. Utah’s U.S. District Court, on behalf of the Oklevueha Native American Church, argued that federal laws that protect peyote use by American Indians should apply to anyone who belongs to the church. ‘Church members have been arrested and prosecuted for using peyote,’ court papers say. Mooney was prosecuted for drug possession and distributing peyote to church members during religious ceremonies. Mooney's conviction was thrown out by the Utah Supreme Court on appeal. It was declared that the federal law should include all church members regardless of being an American Indian religious practitioner. “It is time that such a basis be abolished in favour of extending full religious freedom…” attorneys for the Oklevueha wrote in court papers. ‘Denying the exemption prohibits church members from practicing their religion,’ court papers say.
Currently, peyote is an illegal substance in fifty states. In the USA, federal law currently restricts peyote use in religious ceremonies to members of Federally Recognized Tribal groups. In my opinion, I do not think that authorities should ban the use of peyote as the Native Americans view the drug in a positive light. According to the Native Americans, peyote is a ‘sacred’ drug and thus they perceive it to be highly important. Therefore, by banning this drug, we should not be disrespectful to their culture and their beliefs.
Thanks to Talking Drugs. This article is republished under the Creative Commons License.