Mescaline: Legal consequences

Last modified: Monday, 1. June 2009 - 5:59 am

Legal consequences of Mescaline

The DEA defines peyote as a Schedule I, hallucinogen, meaning that it has a “high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substances under medical supervision.”
Use of peyote or mescaline carries the same fines and punishments as any other Schedule I substance, which can include imprisonment. NAC members who use peyote outside the religious ceremony are not exempt from the consequences for illegal use. The federal guidelines refer specifically to the peyote cactus, L. williamsii. However, any other psychoactive cactus bought and used with the express intent of extracting the mescaline content will carry the same consequences under the law as using the more common form of the peyote cactus.
Traveling to other countries where peyote might be grown could result in Legal consequences. Buying, selling, carrying, or using drugs, including mescaline, outside of the United States can result in interrogation and imprisonment for weeks, months, or life. Each country has its own legal guidelines and punishments for drug use and trafficking. Some countries make no distinctions for a person who has a small quantity of peyote for personal use; such a person could be tried with the same consequences as a full-fledged trafficker. Countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey use the death penalty for even the most minor drug offense.

Legal history

The legal history surrounding peyote use is ambivalent. On one hand, there is the straightforward ban on street usage and its consequences as a Schedule I, hallucinogen. On the other hand, there is the problematic usage by the federally recognized religion of the Native American Church that pits federal drug laws against First Amendment rights.
The legality-illegality considerations of peyote use by Native Americans has been on-again, off-again since the Civil War years. In 1920, New Mexico became the first state to outlaw its use. In 1959, the law was amended to allow Native Americans to use it during religious ceremonies.
In the 1950s and 1960s, peyote was legal throughout most of the United States. During the peak of the psychedelic era, dried peyote cactus buttons were readily available through mail-order catalogues.
When the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (Public Law 91-513) made mescaline and peyote a Schedule I, hallucinogen, the free-flowing use of the cactus as a street drug slowed dramatically. The law did allow an exemption for members of the NAC.
Nevertheless, states interpreted the law in their own way. A religion that used a controlled substance in its ceremony caused a lot of debate among lawyers and civil libertarians alike. It was the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for the right to worship without interference from federal or state governments, versus a church’s right to use an illegal substance as part of its ceremony.
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, adopted August 1978, protected the religious traditions of Native Americans, but this law was challenged almost from its inception.
The 1990 Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith said that the religious use of peyote by Native Americans is not protected by the First Amendment. This decision was met with the outcry of many religious and civil liberties groups, which led to two legislative acts: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments (AIRFA). Amended again in 1996, AIRFA allowed for the same protection for the traditional, ceremonial use of peyote by American Indians in all 50 states.
The law allows for the “use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion is lawful, and shall not be prohibited by the United States or any State.” The law also protects peyoteros, those who harvest peyote.
Discretion, though, is left to the states to decide if the transportation, possession, or use of peyote is harmful to anyone and therefore allows states to make their own laws regulating use.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

Using, possessing, manufacturing, or distributing peyote could result in a prison sentence of not more than 15 years, a fine of not more than $25,000, or both.
In Canada, mescaline or peyote is a restricted drug, regulated by the Food and Drugs Act (FDA). A first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Subsequent offenses are punishable by one year and up to $2,000; if convicted by indictment, individuals may be fined up to $4,000 and earn three years in jail. Penalties for trafficking and/or possession for the purpose of trafficking are punishable by up to 18 months in jail for summary conviction, and up to 10 years upon conviction by indictment.

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