Federal Government Licensing of Ayahuasca Use and Personal and Religious Freedom

Jeffrey Bronfman

Abstract: This presentation will elaborate upon the results of the more than 10-year legal struggle of the União Do Vegetal (UDV) to secure the right to use Hoasca tea, as a religious sacrament, in the United States. In 2006, after several years of litigation in the federal judiciary involving representatives of the United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency, and United States Customs Service, the UDV’s use of Hoasca was ultimately affirmed by a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court. Subsequently, the issue of how that use would be regulated, by the same government agencies who had previously argued for prohibition, required another four years of litigation. The case was finally resolved through a settlement agreement whereby the UDV became the first registered importer, manufacturer, and distributor of a Schedule I controlled substance. The presentation will examine the details of the settlement agreement itself, and related considerations regarding issues of personal and religious freedom.

Jeffrey Bronfman is an educator, philanthropist, and environmentalist first introduced to ayahuasca (and the União do Vegetal religion) when visiting the Amazon to establish a conservation preserve in 1990. He embraced the UDV religion as his spiritual path and practice in 1992 and in 1994 he became the religion’s first Mestre (teacher-guide) living outside of Brazil. From 1999 through its final conclusion in 2010 he served as the lead plaintiff in the UDV’s legal action against the government of the United States, securing the legal acceptance of the UDV’s religious practice in this country.

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