Have you seen psychedelic plant medicines for sale online? Maybe you’ve even bought some before… Or perhaps you sell them yourself!
There are thousands of online retailers that sell plant medicines, including plants used in the ayahuasca brew, across the world. Ayahuasca may even be illegal where you live, but you can come across websites offering to ship plants to your location.
The legality of ayahuasca and other plant medicines is already confusing enough – and gets even more complex for international retailers.
Maya Ethnobotanicals, an ayahuasca retailer in the Netherlands, has recently released a summary of the current legal situation for Dutch stores. Co-written by Santo Daime lawyer Adele van der Plas, it also explains what retailers and ayahuasca ceremony facilitators need to avoid, both in order to stay legal, and to prevent further crackdowns on ayahuasca freedoms.
There are important lessons here: and not just for retailers and facilitators in the Netherlands, but also for international retailers elsewhere. Here are the most important points from Maya Ethnobotanicals’ legal statement:
The Ayahuasca Brew Has Been Illegal in the Netherlands Since 2002
Although the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (UNCPS) of 1971 has been put into law by most UN countries, it does not prohibit plants. It prohibits substances found in plants, such as the DMT molecule, but specifically protects plants or plant preparations (even if they contain DMT).
If a country wants to make a specific plant illegal, or make a preparation of plants illegal, it has to make tailored legislation. So a government would either have to declare the plant or preparation illegal in itself, or rule that plants can be equivalent to the prohibited molecules that they contain.
This is what happened in the Netherlands in 2002, when the Dutch High Court decided that any ayahuasca brew containing controlled substances (like DMT) can be considered a “processing” of the natural plant material, and therefore is illegal under the UNCPS.
What the courts consider “processing” is not set in stone, but subsequent court cases have shown that drying a plant is not “processing” if it’s done naturally by the sun. Do dried plant materials are ostensibly legal, unless you’re really blatant about drying them artificially.
Mixing plants together, brewing them into a tea, grinding them into powder; these are just some of the ways that a court might consider a plant to be “processed,” making it potentially illegal if it contains a prohibited substance like DMT.
Basically, it’s legal to sell, import, and advertise plants used in ayahuasca brews in the Netherlands, as long as they’re not processed any more than drying, and as long as they’re not marketed as being hallucinogenic. Advising your customers to mix it into a brew is also illegal, under article 10a of the Opium Law.
So all retailers can legally sell individual plants, fresh or dried (but not processed), without referring to them as hallucinogenic, and without advising their customers to ingest them or mix them in any way.
Ayahuasca Use is No Longer Protected Under Religious Rights in the Netherlands
Before 2018, religious groups such as Santo Daime in the Netherlands were allowed to use ayahuasca brews in their ceremonies, as they were protected by Section 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
This part of the ECHR deals with the protection of religious rights and freedoms. It allows people to practice their religion as long as it does not interfere with public safety, order, health or morality, and as long as it doesn’t restrict the rights of others.
Santo Daime and other ayahuasca religions in the Netherlands operated under this protection, despite the ayahuasca brew itself being illegal since 2002.
In 2018, a court case was brought against a Santo Daime member who had been importing ayahuasca. The Amsterdam court decided that the religious rights of Santo Daime members were invalidated by a risk to public safety.
Despite the court not providing any evidence of a public risk from ayahuasca use, they highlighted the rising popularity of non-religious ayahuasca ceremonies as a potential threat to public safety.
An appeal in 2019 failed, with the Supreme Court of the Netherlands siding with the initial decision. Ayahuasca is considered too dangerous for religious use in the Netherlands.
Advice for Ayahuasca Retailers and Facilitators in the Netherlands
Maya Ethnobotanicals offers two main areas of advice to ayahuasca retailers and facilitators in the Netherlands.
The first piece of advice is about what you are legally allowed to do in the Netherlands.
You are only allowed to sell individual plants, fresh or dried (but not processed beyond that), without advertising any hallucinogenic effects, or advising on any mixtures or preparations. Even mentioning the word “tea” in your marketing is illegal.
You are absolutely not allowed to advertise ayahuasca ingredients or ayahuasca ceremonies, brew ayahuasca, encourage people to brew ayahuasca, sell ayahuasca, or give ayahuasca to other people. This means that ayahuasca ceremonies are illegal, with facilitators potentially facing legal consequences from administering ayahuasca to participants. Participants in ceremonies may also face legal consequences, as they could be charged under the UNCPS for using DMT.
Retailers may also find imported plants being held by customs regardless of how careful you’ve been to adhere to the law, and they may have to prove that the plants are not “processed.” Retailers may even face going to court if the government decides to be particularly stringent on this matter.
The second piece of advice is about the responsibilities that retailers and facilitators have to avoid and discourage irresponsible ayahuasca use.
The authors claim that it’s likely that one of the reasons ayahuasca was made illegal was because of the irresponsible use of ayahuasca outside of religious contexts.
Indeed, a 2012 report from the International Narcotics Control Board notes the rapid increase in popularity of ayahuasca brews, and encourages individual countries to take “appropriate action” against the misuse and trafficking of ayahuasca plants.
Therefore the authors argue that retailers and facilitators must avoid bringing further attention to ayahuasca in the Netherlands. Although they do not explicitly indicate what “irresponsible” ayahuasca use looks like, we can assume this means basic things like:
- Keeping activities legal
- Using the plants respectfully
- Using the plants safely
- Not bringing attention to the plants
The authors also mention that retailers should point out irresponsible behaviors when they see it, and encourage other retailers to adhere to the law.
Read more about protecting the fragile legality of ayahuasca.
Why This is Relevant for the Rest of the World
Although the specific ayahuasca laws in the Netherlands may seem only relevant to Dutch people, we can see a similar pattern across Europe and the rest of the world.
Countries may have different laws regarding ayahuasca, but many of them have fragile allowances for religious use. Some countries are also starting to pay more attention to ayahuasca ceremonies, and there has been a rise in the number of court cases related to ayahuasca in countries where it is considered to be a legal grey area.
The lessons from the Netherlands can be applied to the rest of the world. Ayahuasca retailers have the option to either flaunt ayahuasca plants and brews, and attract the attention of authorities; or to keep their advertising and marketing respectful, subtle, and mindful.
Choosing the first option may lead to more countries where religious freedoms are overruled.
Choosing the second option may help protect the rights of individuals to practice their religious beliefs, and allow plant medicine enthusiasts to continue to benefit from natural sacraments.