By Bill Rankin, 24 Oct 2002 Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A man accused of illegally importing into Atlanta jungle vines and leaves to brew a hallucinogenic tea must stand trial, a federal magistrate ruled Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Alan Baverman declined to dismiss an indictment against Alan Thomas Shoemaker, whose lawyer contended the vines and leaves are legal substances.

In his ruling, Baverman noted that Shoemaker is accused of importing into Hartsfield International Airport almost 1,000 pounds of the materials, "the combination of which make a potent hallucinogenic brew." In January 2001, Shoemaker sent three crates of ayahuasca vines and huambisa leaves here from Peru. For centuries, the jungle vines and leaves have been brewed to make a tea used by shamans in the Amazon region during religious and spiritual healing ceremonies.

The bitter-tasting tea is believed to heal the sick, bring contact with spirits and divine the future. But it also contains the hallucinogen DMT, an illegal controlled substance. Earlier this year, a federal grand jury in Atlanta indicted Shoemaker on charges of illegal importation and possession of DMT. It is the first prosecution of its kind in Atlanta.

Shoemaker, 49, said in a recent interview that he moved to Peru 10 years ago to study shaman folklore. His lawyer, Page Pate of Atlanta, said Shoemaker planned to use the jungle vines and leaves to make tea solely for religious purposes in the United States.

In court motions, Pate did not contend that the indictment infringes on Shoemaker's First Amendment, or religious freedom, rights. Instead, he argued that Congress, when enacting the Controlled Substances Act, only meant to make manufactured DMT an illegal substance, not the naturally occurring jungle vines and leaves that contain DMT.

Pate also noted that DMT exists naturally in other plant life, including some grown by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prevent soil erosion, and in the human body.

But Baverman found that the Controlled Substances Act, while not specifying the vines or leaves as illegal substances, covers "any material" that contains DMT. "When Congress speaks clearly, the court must follow what Congress has stated," the judge wrote.

And Baverman found that congressional efforts to prevent illegal drug use "were directed at the human consumption of controlled substances, not, for example, their use in basic agriculture or their naturally occurring presence in the human body."

Pate expressed disappointment at the findings, which will be forwarded to U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes, who is to preside over Shoemaker's trial. Pate said he will appeal the ruling to the federal appeals court in Atlanta, either before or after Shoemaker's trial, if necessary.


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