When Is Drinking Ayahuasca a Religious Experience?
Reason magazine|March 2022
Inside the vast apparatus of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there’s a bureaucrat who is tasked with investigating the tenets of psychedelic churches. That improbable job figures in the legal troubles encountered by Arizona’s Vine of Light Church.
C.J. Ciaramella. Photo by Pablo Robles

That group used to sponsor monthly meetings at which paying guests drank ayahuasca, a powerful psychoactive brew that originated in South America. Those gatherings ended in May 2019, when a federal drug task force raided the Phoenix home of Clay Villanueva, the church’s pastor.

The task force says it seized dozens of pounds of ayahuasca, along with psilocybin mushrooms and marijuana. But Villanueva was not arrested until 18 months later, under a Maricopa County warrant that neither he nor his attorney knew existed. He now stands accused of running an illegal drug enterprise.

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