Native American Churches Request that Peyote Not Be Included in Decriminalization Initiatives

By Russell Hausfeld|March 16, 2020

A long-fought battle for access to peyote, and a dwindling population in the United States has led Native American Church members and peyote conservationists to request that peyote be left out of decriminalization efforts.

Pictured: Peyote researcher, statement signatory, and member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Dawn D. Davis.

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TThe National Council of Native American Churches (NCNAC) and the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) released a statement on March 12, 2020 asking psychedelic plant and fungi decriminalization efforts NOT to include peyote in their initiatives. 

“It is extremely important that peyote be preserved for utilization by and for indigenous peoples. Broken treaties in this land, the preciousness of native traditions, ecological threats to the medicine itself, and the importance of spiritual respect in its use makes peyote a tenuous plant to include explicitly in any decriminalization effort,” the statement reads.

In 2018, Dawn D. Davis—a peyote researcher, member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and signatory of the statement—spoke at the Sleeping Octopus Assembly on Psychedelics about peyote’s history and its conservation. She explained that the right for Native Americans to use peyote has been a hard-fought battle with the United States government.

“Because of the governmental impact on peyote use, Native Americans had to create their own church. We had to create a bona fide religion in order to have access to our medicine. And then, on top of that, [the government] started regulating it. They created these peyote dealers. They made it so that only federally recognized tribal people could ingest. And, they make you be a card-carrying member. What other church in the United States requires its members to have a card to be a member? Zero, except for the Native Americans,” Davis said. “So, I do have an issue with non-indigenous people ingesting peyote.” 

Alongside the struggles with the government, there has been peyote depletion in the U.S. that even many Native American church members are not aware of, according to Davis. Habitat and population threats have arisen in the small area of southern Texas where peyote grows naturally (and pretty much exclusively, in the U.S.), including root plowing, oil extraction, urban sprawl, wind farm development, and psychedelic tourism (both legal and illegal). 

The statement explains that under federal law and Texas state law, only Indian people who are members of federally-recognized tribes are permitted to legally acquire, possess, use, and transport peyote. The statement asserts that local resolutions that lead non-native people to believe that they have the legal rights to acquire, possess, use, or transport peyote may provide a false sense of legality and lead to unnecessary prosecution. Not only that, but “the collateral and unintended effect [of decriminalization] could be to increase interest in non-native persons either going to Texas to purchase peyote or to buy it from a local dealer who has acquired it illegally and unsustainably in Texas.”

“Both scenarios, we fear, will further foment the peyote black market and unsustainable practices in south Texas and compromise the decades long work on the part of Native American peyote spiritual leaders and allies,” the statement reads. 

In recent years, many ranchers that the Native American Church works with have expressed concerns of rampant trespassing and destructive practices of illegal pickers. 

“The proper technique is to harvest a peyote button that is at least two-and-a-half inches in diameter,” Davis said. “Because then at least you know it has seeded and it has propagated. And, you cut it right at the ground level. Any lower would be cutting into the root. So, when you harvest it properly, it will actually regenerate.” This is a necessary practice for sustainability and one that Native American practitioners have developed in order to preserve their medicine for generations to come. Many black market harvesters and non-native psychedelic tourists who are unaware of practices like this have contributed to a depletion of peyote over time.

The statement concludes by asking that non-native people who want to experience entheogenic healing look to one of the many alternative entheogenic substances available, in order to help preserve the fragile peyote population in southern Texas and respect the spiritual and cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. And, moving forward, NCNAC and IPCI request that decriminalization efforts “NOT include the word ‘peyote’ in any local decriminalization resolutions, initiatives, or efforts, put before governing bodies.”

View the full statement here.

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Russell Hausfeld


Russell Hausfeld is an investigative journalist and illustrator living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Religious Studies from the University of Cincinnati. His work with Psymposia has been cited in Vice, The Nation, Frontiers in Psychology, New York Magazine’s “Cover Story: Power Trip” podcast, the Daily Beast, the Outlaw Report, Harm Reduction Journal, and more.