WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Wednesday won a Supreme Court (search) stay that blocks a New Mexico church from using hallucinogenic tea that the government contends is illegal and potentially dangerous.
The government has been in a long-running legal fight with the Brazil-based O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal over hoasca tea (search), brewed from plants found in the Amazon River Basin.
The church won a preliminary injunction in a lower court, and the Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (search), acting on behalf of the full court, granted a temporary stay to give both sides time to file more arguments with the court.
"Compliance with the injunction would force the United States to go into violation of an international treaty designed to prevent drug trafficking worldwide, which could have both short- and long-term foreign relations costs and could impair the policing of transnational drug trafficking involving the most dangerous controlled substances," acting Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote in a court filing.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver found that the church probably has a religious-freedom right to use the tea. The Bush administration plans to appeal, but wants the church barred from using the tea in the meantime.
The church's leader had sued after federal agents raided his office in Santa Fe in 1999 and seized 30 gallons of hoasca tea. The tea contains DMT, a controlled substance.
The Bush administration already has one drug appeal at the Supreme Court. Justices heard arguments earlier this week in that case, which asks whether the federal government can prosecute patients who smoke marijuana on doctors' orders and in states that have medical marijuana laws.
The case is Ashcroft v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, A-469.