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Religious liberty rally at State Capitol calls on Utah to end ban on peyote use in sacrament

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Posted at 3:34 PM, Jul 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-23 17:34:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A freedom of religion protest was held at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, and those in attendance were advocating for the right to use peyote as part of their religious observances.

According to a press release from the Tahteya Topa (Four Winds) Native American Church of Utah, the gathering was in protest to a law which bans peyote, which is used as sacrament in the church.

According to a DEA drug fact sheet for peyote and mescaline, peyote is a small, spineless cactus that contains a hallucinogen mescaline. The fact sheet states using mescaline can cause illusions, hallucinations and altered perception of space and time as well as altered body image.

David Hamblin is a member of Tahteya Topa Native American Church of Utah and was among those who attended the protest, and he said the law violates freedom of religion and that the classification as peyote as a hallucinogen is incorrect.

“And people say it’s a hallucinogen, which it’s not,” he said. “It’s a plant portal to the spirit world. If you believe in the reality of the spirit world: What you see is real, whether it’s negative or positive. And it’s not a popular recreational drug. Hippies who take this drug use it once and that’s it… It’s not abused, it’s a super food. It’s a wonderful plant that’s good for you.”

He said some of their members fear following their religious beliefs will lead to them losing their job or families due to what he calls a “racist law” banning the substance.

Hamblin said he and two others were arrested in 2000 for possessing peyote and after a four-year legal process had their right to use it upheld by the Utah Supreme Court. He said the law was changed two years later by the legislature, and that under current laws only those with Native American heritage are legally allowed to use the substance.

“It’s supposed to be 25 percent [Native American heritage], but what they’re really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood… Religion is not about race,” he said.

The DEA fact sheet says peyote and mescaline are Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substance Act, but it also notes that, “From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by natives in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States as a part of their religious rites.”

Hamblin said while their name states they are a Native American church, anyone can join.