(AP) A family court judge
ruled Tuesday that a 4-year-old boy cannot take peyote at American Indian
In his decision, Judge Graydon W. Dimkoff wrote that "peyote is dangerous,
and in general should be avoided." He went on to state, however, that the
boy could ingest peyote when he is fully aware of the implications, is
physically and emotionally ready, and has the permission of both parents.
The boy's father, Jonathan Fowler, 36, a member of the Grand Traverse Band
of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, had asked Dimkoff to reverse an earlier
decision and allow his son to ingest sacramental peyote with him at the
Native American Church of the Morning Star.
Kristin Hanslovsky, Fowler's ex-wife, had fought the request, saying she
did not want to violate anyone's religious freedom, but giving the boy
peyote could cause long-term neurological defects.
Fowler's attorney, Thomas Myers, of Michigan Indian Legal Services, has
said the case was about ensuring that "rights guaranteed to Native
Americans by treaty or statute are secured, and I think that would include
Peyote, a bitter-tasting cactus that grows in southern Texas and northern
Mexico, has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years. Those
who ingest the plant — usually drunk as a tea or eaten as a greenish paste
— believe it provides enlightenment and other spiritual and physical
The plant's active chemical ingredient is mescaline, a hallucinogen. The
U.S. criminal code classifies peyote as a controlled substance, and in
most instances a person caught with more than 4 ounces (113.4 grams) faces
the possibility of a 20-year prison sentence.
But during the last century, peyote's use in religious rites spread among
American Indians throughout the United States, including the upper
Midwest. Congress recognized this sacramental use of peyote eight years
ago by amending the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 to
protect the practice in all 50 states.
Testifying on Fowler's behalf at a court hearing last year, John H.
Halpern, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, said he has found no
evidence of a child or adult being harmed by the use of peyote in Indian
"This is a sacred ceremony," said Halpern, who has conducted an extensive
study of peyote use among Indians. "It's not something to entertain
About 300,000 Indians who belong to the Native American Church of North
America, the nation's largest church for indigenous peoples, ingest some
form of the cactus, Halpern said.
Some of the churches do not let young children ingest peyote, however. At
the Peyote Way Church of God in Klondike, Arizona, a person must be at
least 18 — or 14, with parental permission — to take the substance.
"Peyote is an introspective experience," said church co-director Anne
Zapf. "It's a God experience and generally you have to have a few sins
under your belt."
CCLE Entheogen & Drug Policy Project
Peyote in CCLE
Drug Law Library