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    Ayahuasca Defense Fund arrested

    5 Things to Know About the Ayahuasca Defense Fund

    ICEERS | 2 December 2022

    The Ayahuasca Defense Fund (ADF) addresses the challenges presented by the growing criminalization of practices with ayahuasca and other teacher plants. The ADF draws on a network of collaborators – drug policy experts, lawyers, legal strategists, and renowned academics. The program also works to engage policymakers, law enforcement authorities, and relevant actors to move towards sensible, human rights-based public policy as a strategy to prevent legal incidents.

    Since 2016, the ADF has supported 292 legal incidents in 45 countries and 5 continents involving various ancestral medicines (ayahuasca, san pedro, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, coca leaf, iboga, and others). In November 2022, we hosted livestream sessions in both English and Spanish to update the community. Below are key questions about the fundamentals of our work and how you can get involved.

    1. How does the Ayahuasca Defense Fund support the community?

    The ADF is an information hub that unites policy information and legal support and offers it to the international community. Our program provides legal support to those affected free of charge. Our lawyers don’t go to court for people. We instead support the defendants and their lawyers with evidence, legal arguments, and strategies that connects the dots between different cases and international legal precedents.

    One of the most common questions we receive is whether we only work on situations involving ayahuasca. We originally founded the program to respond to legal incidents around ayahuasca and we continue to receive the highest number of calls about it. But the ADF works around several ancestral plants and fungi. Thus far in 2022, we have attended 58 legal incidents around the world involving ayahuasca, iboga, san pedro, peyote, yopo, coca leaf, psilocybin mushrooms, and others.

    The ADF also goes beyond supporting legal challenges to develop proactive strategies to prevent legal challenges from happening in the first place. We provide information on the legal status of ethnobotanicals in a country-by-country map. We also engage in education with policymakers to inform them that these plants are not internationally scheduled and have been ancestral medicines for Indigenous peoples for generations. 

    It can be traumatic to face charges for working with these medicines. Navigating a legal process is hard on people emotionally, socially, and economically. The ADF also offers moral and informative support to accompany people through their legal challenges. These charges also impact people’s family and the community. Even if the result is good, the path can be challenging. We listen and make sure people are supported. 

    The ADF examines national strategies worldwide. We educate on drug policies, laws, and criminal justice in general. Each country has different laws and views on plant medicine. Our approach for each case is adapted to the unique framework of the country in which it occurs. We approach legal challenges based on various perspectives, such as human rights, religious freedom, or cultural rights if the situation involves someone Indigenous. 

    The ADF also shares pharmacological evidence on plant medicine which can be crucial for winning cases. For example, when people are arrested for ayahuasca possession, they are often charged with trafficking DMT. Our team works with their lawyers to ensure that the lab testing results are accurate. We also offer the scientific evidence that differentiates the DMT compound (which is scheduled under international law) from DMT derived from plant sources. During trials we also provide scientific evidence, expert reports, and testimony if needed.

    Avoiding negative precedents is important for the broader community. We do research on trends to understand what is shifting so we can share this with the public. This transfer of knowledge makes it possible to support court cases in a variety of jurisdictions.

    2. What are some of the ways that the ADF works on human rights and cultural rights?

    We are witnessing a complicated scenario in which cannabis legality is growing worldwide, but changing legislation does not necessarily equate with sensible policies or less repressive systems. Movements are growing to decriminalize psychedelics, yet traditional plants are facing more restrictions. Our work is grounded in a deep respect of Indigenous knowledge systems and ecosystems. Traditional work with ceremonial plants is still misunderstood in many parts of the world. People working in these ways are getting caught in the nets of “drug control” when the whole plant or practice is reduced to an “active” component (i.e. DMT or mescaline).

    Indigenous rights cases arise when these medicines travel outside their countries of origin. Members of Indigenous groups have special rights regarding the ancestral use of plants. When an Indigenous person is detained, our team works to ensure that lawyers and officials understand that these practices are rooted in tradition. These plants are not criminalized in their countries. They are considered cultural treasures and heritage.  

    For example, we have supported several coca leaf cases involving people from Andean communities living in Spain. Coca is an integrated part of their identities and culture. They may travel with coca leaf powder because they don’t consider the plant to be prohibited. In their countries, coca is commonplace. It is completely legal, normalized, and a vital part of their society and culture. 

    Legal challenges in different parts of the world are an opportunity to come together and look at the best practices we can envision together. Through other programs at ICEERS, we also work around biocultural sustainability. This is a parallel strategy that emphasizes being mindful of how international practices are affecting cultures and wild plant populations to develop models for benefit sharing with Indigenous communities.

    3. What are the first steps if someone finds themselves in a legal incident? 

    The best way to attend a legal case is to prevent one. The ADF encourages people to  first educate themselves on the legal framework of the medicines they work with. Learning about previous cases and legal precedents is legal harm reduction. You can also ensure your work follows good practice guidelines. We have seen that when practitioners doing participant screening and integration support end up with legal difficulties, the duty of care they have shown can help judges look upon them favorably.  

    The second step is to send us an email so we can do an intake interview and connect them to knowledgeable lawyers in their area. The first hours after someone is detained are the most crucial. The judge normally has up to 48 hours (depending on the location) to determine if the situation is a felony or not. It is important to find a lawyer who already has experience with legal cases involving plants or fungi, or a willingness to learn. Our trusted and informed lawyer network stays engaged with the program and continues to learn alongside us. We’re grateful that they are willing to step up to help. 

    Not all legal challenges escalate to a formal criminal case. Many charges are dropped after early education and legal intervention. The ADF is here to help by providing the expertise we have in the field. For any questions please feel free to reach out to us.

    4. How can I support the Ayahuasca Defense Fund?

    The ADF is a community effort. The people we work with help spread the word about our program. Proactive work to prevent cases from happening is not something we can do by ourselves. We must work hand-in-hand with the community. 

    Community building goes beyond simply responding to legal incidents. We establish the groundwork to defend plant medicine cases via interdisciplinary strategies. The ADF exists because of community advocacy and funding. Our program does not ask people for a fee. Therefore we rely on donations to keep our work going. 

    Donating monthly is a great way to support the program. If you or someone you know can financially support the ADF, any amount is greatly appreciated. Helping spread the word about our work enables the practitioner community to know that we’re here for them if they have any legal issues.

    5. How can attorneys get involved?

    The Ayahuasca Defense Fund has a network of lawyers in different countries. One of the first questions we ask someone facing a legal challenge is if they have a lawyer. The ADF has contacts in many parts of the world. We invite lawyers to email us so we can be aware of your local efforts. If a case comes to us in your jurisdiction, we can be in touch and explore how to potentially work together.

    We come together to discuss and learn from the situations in different countries. Unifying allied lawyers include inviting them to network calls where trends are looked at and analysis of precedents is done collectively. This is how we develop strategies to support one another. The ADF gives context on plants and fungi to legal teams for those who aren’t familiar with these ancestral medicines or practices. This also helps the ADF look at the broader international situation and refer to the successes and precedents that have been set in other countries. 





    Further Info

    Categories: Featured ADF , ADF
    Tags: support , legality , ayahuasca , San Pedro , law , coca , community , ADF