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Bubbling with Controversy: Legal Issues of Ayahuasca Churches in the USA
J. Hamilton Hudson, J.D.
Co-author: Beatriz C. Labate

The use of ayahuasca has been spreading rapidly worldwide. There are no current statistics that allow a global understanding of the numbers involved in the expansion. In the US, part of the trend has been the emergence of certain groups and organizations who publicly announce their ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats as legal. This presentation will map the existence of a series of branches and actors controversially identifying as “Native American Churches” such as the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC), Soulquest, and Ayahuasca Healing and explore the public controversies surrounding them. Then it will review the legality of these churches, looking at the pertinent cases and governing law, such as the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Special attention will be given to the cases of the UDV and Santo Daime: Gonzales v. O Centro Beneficiente União do Vegetal (2006), and Church of the Holy Light of the Queen v. Holder (2011). The presentation will conclude with lessons about how ayahuasca churches can become legal and what to do—and what not to do—when navigating the muddy waters of ayahuasca law.

J. Hamilton Hudson, J.D., is a lawyer from the U.S.A. born and raised in Hong Kong . He earned his JD with an MS from Tulane University in New Orleans and his BA magna cum laude in Anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is currently Research Associate at the Ayahuasca Defense Fund (ADF).

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