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UNITED STATES: Utah attempts to close loophole in peyote law

The Utah Senate Judiciary Committee recently cleared HB 60, a bill that would limit the use of the hallucinogenic substance peyote to members of federally recognized American Indian tribes, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on February 7. The bill was drafted by state representative Curt Oda in response to the arrest of James "Flaming Eagle" Mooney, a self-proclaimed medicine man and member of the Native American Church, who was caught by police with 12,000 peyote buttons in 2000. Utah County initially charged Mooney and his wife with a dozen felony drug counts, but the charges were dropped in 2004 when the Utah Supreme Court ruled the state’s drug law ambiguous. Utah’s current statute allows members of the Native American Church, including non-Natives, to use peyote. HB60 aims to close this loophole by restricting the legal use of peyote exclusively to members of federally recognized tribes. State lawmakers say the bill is needed to prevent peyote use from being exploited, as the drug, which is classified by the DEA as a Schedule 1 narcotic, is traditionally used for religious purposes. Laws regarding peyote use vary from state to state, with many states allowing the bona fide religious use of peyote as an exception to federal controlled substance laws. Some states require a percentage of "Native American Heritage" to legally use peyote, (generally 25 percent) while other states require only that peyote users to be members of the Native American Church. The bill is currently pending before the legislature.