Drug Arrest Raises Legal Questions About Peyote

  Drug Arrest Raises Legal Questions About Peyote

Posted by FoM on July 17, 2000 at 08:10:58 PT
By Frank Curreri, Salt Lake Tribune 
Source: Salt Lake Tribune 

The followers of Flowing Moose gather in a towering tepee for an all-night prayer session beside the Ogden River.   Some of the churchgoers crying in the tepee sell cars or are successful in other professions. Other conflicted souls claim to be drug addicts, child molesters and even murderers. Each comes to Nick Stark -- a medicine man in the Native American Church -- to eat peyote and drink a tea made from the hallucinogenic plant. 
  The believers say the peyote helps purge their souls of a dark and torturous past. "This is like a truth serum," says Dianne Sanders, a member of Stark's church. "It shows you where you are in life. It takes you closer to God."   While Stark and his disciples claim the twice-a-month meetings in his backyard are religious ceremonies protected under the freedom of religion clauses in the U.S. and Utah constitutions, police suspect the members are recreational drug users, consuming peyote illegally.   Authorities arrested Stark at his home in Ogden Canyon on July 8, confiscating $11,000 in cash and 3,500 of the quarter-size peyote buttons, which come from cactuses harvested in southern Texas. The 49-year-old Stark will be charged with distributing peyote, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, said Lt. Wayne Tarwater of the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.   Officers began investigating Stark after a woman reported she had been held against her will at his home and forced to consume peyote. Stark denies her allegations and contends he is legally authorized to use and administer peyote, an all-natural drug.   He told police he is one-quarter Iroquois Indian and a member of the Oklevueha Earth Walks Native American Indian Church in Benjamin, just south of Spanish Fork. "It ain't about training," Stark said. "It's something you're either born to do or not."   James Mooney, the church's president, confirmed Stark is empowered by the church to carry out spiritual ceremonies using peyote as its Ogden chapter leader and is a church-authorized medicine man.   But the question of Stark's legal authority to use peyote is unclear. Under Utah law, peyote is a drug equivalent to heroin or LSD, with a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical uses, said Tracey Tabet, deputy chief of staff for Utah Attorney General Jan Graham. Tabet said attorneys in his office "knew of no exceptions for use of peyote."   But federal law allows American Indians to consume peyote during religious rituals, a tradition that dates back thousands of years.   Don Mandrella, a Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] agent in Salt Lake City, said peyote can be distributed only by a medicine man. The drug can be consumed only by parishioners whose bloodline is at least 25 percent American Indian, he added.   But the medicine man criterion creates a perplexing question for police as they seek charges against Stark: What documentation does someone provide to prove he is a medicine man, not a con man?   "Nobody's really clear on that," Mandrella said. "It sounds like you can self-proclaim that you are a medicine man."   Also unclear, Mandrella said, is the reason Native American Church members with no American Indian blood cannot legally partake in the same peyote ceremonies as American Indian churchgoers. "That's a good question we have to answer," Mandrella said.   National officials of the Native American Church could not be reached for comment.   Most of the people who attend Stark's backyard gatherings are not American Indians. Stark says anyone over age 18 can attend his sessions, which he has held since 1997. Guests are asked to pay at least $200, although Stark frequently allows people to partake without charge.   At their first meeting, attendees instantly become members of his church, which Stark contends endows them with the legal privilege to consume peyote.   It was a first-time parishioner who complained to Ogden police about Stark. Jackquelyn Nicole Burnett, 24, of Salt Lake City, said she voluntarily joined 26 others in the tepee on the evening of July 7 because she was "curious about Native American religion." Burnett and the group ate dinner together at around 8 p.m.   What happened during the next 16 hours, however, is disputed. Burnett told police Stark yelled at her and forced her to eat peyote against her will, wielding a 6-foot-long stick. After taking the drug, Burnett began sobbing and told Stark she wanted to leave, she said. She claims Stark refused.   Burnett said she was disturbed by "a lot of confessions going on" inside the tepee.   "Some guy admitted that he had molested a neighbor," Burnett told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. "He said the boy was 6 and he was asking for forgiveness from the medicine."   Others in attendance sought psychic healing, said Burnett. "Somebody had been raped, another girl was bulimic. . . . I felt like I was around a bunch of crazy people, and I wanted to get out."   Stark admits yelling at Burnett, refusing to let her leave and telling her if she did he would be "obligated to call the police and let them know you're on the loose on a controlled substance." But Stark and others who were at the ceremony deny Burnett was compelled to swallow peyote, which has a foul and bitter taste. Church rules, they contend, require each person at the ceremony to stand in front of the group and profess that they are there of their own free will and state, "Nick, give me the medicine."   "We have to ask Nick to give it to us," said 26-year-old [name redacted] of Salt Lake City, who said she has been attending the church for about seven months.   
Burnett said she was able to leave after noon July 8, when she left Stark's house on the pretense of having a cigarette outside.   She ran halfway down Ogden Canyon and flagged down a police officer. About 15 officers later arrived at Stark's house, where he showed them his peyote. He was arrested and released the next day, later producing papers he said prove he is authorized by the church to use and distribute peyote.   Mooney, meanwhile, said Stark violated proper ceremonial protocol last weekend, but declined to say what Stark had done wrong. Mooney said he will likely reprimand Stark, which may include a probationary period during which Stark can neither use peyote during ceremonies nor act as a medicine man.   Stark, who credits peyote with helping him overcome past addictions to heroin, cocaine and marijuana, and an abusive childhood, said he will have each church member sign a legal waiver if he is allowed to practice his medicine again.   "I need to be more careful about who I let in here, obviously," he said. "I'm going to do a more thorough screening process to avoid this kind of situation."    Tribune reporter Kevin Cantera contributed to this reportE-mail: letters Contact Information: Published: Monday, July 17, 2000© Copyright 2000, The Salt Lake Tribune Related Articles:Religious Liberty Bill Threatens Civil Rights Testifies Against Religious Liberty Act Peyote Law Has Navajos in Bind

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Comment #5 posted by r.earing on July 18, 2000 at 07:06:57 PT:

peyote medicine misunderstood

The traditional use of peyote is very,very much like group therapy as practiced by modern ,western shrinks.When the law was drafted "group therapy" would have been considered witchcraft.The indians were about two hundred years in the future compared with the white lawmakers.Hallucinogens can have a profound effect on ones perception of self in relation to ones perception of others in society.I can see how this form of therapy could have enormous benefits for society in general. I.E. Allowing a predatory criminal to "experience" the pain his crimes bring to the community might sensitize him to the point of thinking twice next time. The voluntary nature of the drug ingestion and the mutual social support of the group under treatmment are strong positive co-factors for healing to occur. I predict that in the future, many mainstream psychologists will be conducting entheogenic group therapy,modeled closely after the peyote ritual. In terms of harm from ingested substances,natives suffer horrible complications from alcoholism and diabetes after adopting white diets, that make any possible harm from peyote look positively trivial.
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Comment #4 posted by dddd on July 18, 2000 at 06:14:57 PT


Ya know,,,its almost like the governments drugwar sham,has been looking more and more like a hate group..???...If you think about it,,,,what happened to the civil rights of some,,I guess that's obvious. When you look at what is going on,,it's rather shocking to realize the cult of evil,and cruelty,that has been spawned by the villification of "bad drugs"...There are many hateful,meanspirited,borderline psychopathic enforcement factions,that have mutated out of the fabricated political bigmouth phonies...........and on that note,,please forgive my verbose excesses...................dubble dd
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Comment #3 posted by Dan B on July 17, 2000 at 13:27:27 PT:

 This woman is crazy

"Somebody had been raped, another girl was bulimic. . . . I felt like I was around a bunch of crazy people, and I wanted to get out." This quotation is enough to convince me that this woman has a screw loose. Having been raped does not mean one is "crazy." Wanting help to control bulimia is not "crazy." For goodness' sake, aren't these people going through enough without needing the additional stigma of being labeled "crazy"? Associating these behaviors with being crazy--now that is crazy. 
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on July 17, 2000 at 13:15:34 PT:

Racism? Sure. And definitely 

unConstitutional. THE FIRST AMENDMENT: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Let's see now: the only way to legally consume peyote is to be a First American. Because the Guv says so. It has a law to that effect. Is it a law 'Respective of Religion'? Sure looks like it to me.Let's say I'm someone of Arab descent. (I'm not; mainly Scottish-Irish with a little Sassenach thrown in for flavoring - does that mean I'm allowed to swill the poteen in my devotions?) My ancestors hailed from North Africa. Here and there throughout that region for centuries, were Sufi mystics. They were members of the Green Man sect of the Ismaili and they used hashish for their sacraments in their rites. By the Congress's reasoning, they should let me pursue my cultural heritage. But they would more likely throw my ass in jail. "Respective of religion'? Hell, yes it is. UnConstitutional? It's so obvious even a Congresscritter should get the first time. But they don't. Why? Because no one ever cared to hold their feet to the fire on it. That's why RasTafarians are pitched in jail, but a First American can trip the light fantastic (and barf his guts out, too) on peyote.Another demonstration of the racist side of American Drugwar laws. 
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Comment #1 posted by legalizeit on July 17, 2000 at 08:43:34 PT

Religious oppression

>Tabet said attorneys in his office "knew of no exceptions for use of peyote." Why is it that cops and prosecutors, who are supposed to be experts in law, always develop sudden amnesia when dealing with laws that permit use of psychotropic drugs? They can recite in minute detail the punishment for carrying a couple of joints, but when it comes to letting Indians and the sick and dying use the medicine they choose, it's almost always "Uhhh, I don't recall...">Church rules, they contend, require each person at the ceremony to stand in front of the group and profess that they are there of their own free will and state, "Nick,give me the medicine."In an ideal society, this would be the ONLY rule governing the use of mind alterants. As long as someone is taking such a sacrament of his/her own free will, ESPECIALLY a naturally occurring one, that person should be left alone, not harassed, dragged into court, or jailed.>The drug can be consumed only by parishioners whose bloodline is at least 25 percent American IndianThis is racism, pure and simple. At least it's not (on the outside, anyway) discriminating against those who have been tormented in the past for a change, but it denies those of us who are not physiologically Indian but agree with Indian belief systems and believe that time-tested experiences such as a peyote ceremony could enrich our lives. In other words, if you wish to practice something other than the Anglo Judeo-Christian "ideal" of getting your religious experience by singing and listening to a boring sermon inside a concrete and wood vault, sorry, you're out of luck.Shame on all who have invaded the Indians' soverign lands and trounced on and desecrated their religious practices, even going as far as to make naturally growing PLANTS illegal! I often think about a prophetic Indian chant reproduced on the back cover of a "Kansas" album (I think it was Monolith):Soon the earth will be covered with dustAnd a new earth will be bornAll Nations of Indians long dead will awaken from their eternal sleep. The Buffalo will return and the white man will be gone.Though not an Indian in a physical sense, I feel that I will be one of those still there when this comes to pass. I'm not sure I can say the same for all those cops and prosecutors.
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