Thursday, November 03, 2005

Supreme Court hears hallucinogenic tea case

*Update of the Case*

I've previously blogged about the case here and I had the following to say.

"In a previous entry dated 04/07/2005, "Manila's battle with the Church", I made mention about a Church in New Mexico getting into trouble for using tea laced/made with a hallucinogen i.e. hoasca tea.

Anyway, this is simply an update and goes towards showing two things.

1. The USA's current drugs policy is very ethno-centric. I made prior mention on how the Rastafarians believe that alcohol and tobacco were the White Man's drugs sent to destroy them while marijuana (Ganja) brought them into closer union with the divine spirit(s). There is some element of truth in this particularly when one views the highly destructive effects of alcohol on the Aboriginal Community in Australia (the massive welfare hurts but only by propagating the use of alcohol and the lack of incentive to work, more than anything else...guilt has its price). But at any rate, it would seem that the current permissible use of (harmful) drugs all of which have their roots in the Old World (mostly Europe).

2. The policy is seriously irrational. It seems that the only manner in which one could reconcile their drug policy is a) accept the ethno-centricity of the policy and b) the desire to draw a bright red line in a misguided attempt to 'solve' the drug problem.

It is evident that harm is not an issue here. In comparison to alcohol (4% of annual deaths) and tobacco (4.1% of annual deaths), this tea used solely for religious purposes and which the lawyers claim has no ill effects is not just mild but harmless. Even marijuana, while more dangerous per 'toke' (because smokers hold in the smoke for a longer period) is in absolute terms much much less harmful than cigarettes. A heavy user of marijuana takes about 4-5 'tokes' a day (average users apparently smoke less than 1 per day) while heavy smokers of cigarettes can go through 2-3 packs a day.

HOWEVER, on the particular facts, I think the majority opinion (6-3) may be right. I think it would set too dangerous a precedent if a religious community could use their status as a religion to bypass state laws, see the Mormon's ex-polygamy laws. So while I think in general, the drug laws ought to be changed to something similar to say the more liberal and tolerant version advocated by the Netherlands, there should not be exceptions carved out for religious groups."

The Supreme Court seems to be tied 4-4 now and the swing vote in favour of the church, Justice Sandra Day O'Conner may not be deciding this case. Instead, the new Chief Justice Roberts will be. And no one knows which way he will decide.

Anyway, I've somewhat reconsidered this decision in recent months and I'm not entirely certain that the possible implications are so dire as to be incapable of rectification should the need arise. So it is not impossible for the court to make this a very narrow ruling i.e. where a religious practice is confined to the particular religious community and where the religious practice in question, while conflicting with state law or federal law, nevertheless does not pose a danger to the community at large, that religious practice should be allowed on the basis of Right of Free Association. Or the judgement could be even narrower and confined it to the facts of the case i.e. only this particular church can continue with its religious practice.

I would have a lot more sympathy with the argument that this would be a supposed blow to the international war on drugs if it simply didn't sound so specious. The argument goes that "the drug not only violates a federal narcotics law, but a treaty in which the United States promised to block the importation of drugs including dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT. The hoasca tea had been imported from Brazil. (The Bush administration lawyer) said other countries could back off the international war-on-drugs, citing lax U.S. enforcement of the treaty."

Just 2 things though.

1. It's already happening and they don't need a reason to be lax anyway. The war on drugs is not going to succeed if you are effectively subsidising both sides. For every billion given to the Columbian government (and not frittered away by corruption...what an ally huh?), there's a billion going to the drug narcs by consumers. Even if you take them out, there's still the golden triangle and the military junta supporting them. Short of outright anniliation, a partial legalisation (to reduce access to hard drugs), couple with the money save going towards treatment instead of incaration and specific tighter enforcement is probably the way to go.

2. It's not hard drugs for goodness sake, it's a freaking mild hallucinogenic tea. The Native American tribes already legally use peyote (althougn admittedly home grown) and the focus of the war on drugs is now on synthetic and hard drugs at any rate.

Anyway, this entire issue is academic in Singapore anyway. As long as there's the whole drugs are bad mentality (although oddly enough not translating to alcohol and tobacco), there's not going to be any debate.


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