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Santo Daime Church Wins Court Case
- Arno Adelaars, Amsterdam

Freedom of Religion versus the Psychotropic Substance Treaty - The Verdict

Amsterdam- On Monday 21 May 2001 Geraldine Fijneman, head of the Amsterdam branch of the Santo Daime church was acquitted by the court. Judge Marcus and his two colleagues decided that, although it was proven that mrs. Fijneman had owned, transported and distributed a DMT-containing substance, her constitutional right to Freedom of Religion must be respected.

In the verdict, the court first argued that several arguments of the defense were not valid. The court said the preparation of ayahuasca was not a simple preparation, because it was a mixture of two plants. Therefore, the line of defense that Adele van der Plas used in the second session, based on the "Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, done at Vienna on 21 February 1971" (United Nations, New York 1976 E/CN.7/589) was not valid, since the notes 1227 and 1228 of article 32 paragraph 4 were about simple preparations of one type of plant.

The letter of Herbert Schaepe, Secretary of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board in Vienna Austria to the chief of the Inspectorate for Health Care of the Dutch Ministry of Public Health of 17 January 2001 was not important according to the court, because it is not the Board who decides how the Psychotropic Substance Treaty should be interpreted.

The court agreed with the defense laywer that the Santo Daime church is a serious and bonafide religion, and although ayahuasca contains the scheduled substance DMT, it is considered the holy sacrament without which the defendant can't profess her religion.

The court declared that according to article 9 paragraph 2 of the European Treaty of Human Rights every person has a right to profess his religion, unless there is threat to public safety, public order, public health or good manners. The prosecutor argued that ayahuasca was a threat to public health, but didn't give any proof of public health risks involving the use of ayahuasca said judge Marcus. The judge stated that expert witness toxicologist De Wolff had declared there were currently no public health risks concerning the use of ayahuasca within the setting of a Santo Daime service.

The lack of public health risks and the emphasis that should be placed on the constitutional Freedom of Religion made the court decide in favor of the defendant.

Both the defendant and the laywer were not present and couldn't make comments about the case. It is quite likely that the defense will demand the return of the confiscated 17 liters of ayahuasca and will demand a compensation for the time the defendant was incarcerated.

Arno Adelaars, Amsterdam

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