Latest posts by Henrique Fernandes Antunes, Ph.D. (see all)

Latest posts by Igor Fernandes Antunes, M.A. (see all)

    The religious use of ayahuasca has been the subject of drug policies in Brazil since 1985, when ayahuasca was temporarily banned for a period of six months. In 1987, the Federal Council of Narcotics (CONFEN) published the first report on the subject, allowing the religious use of ayahuasca throughout the country. Although policies on the religious use of ayahuasca date back to the second half of the 1980s, the first environmental policies regulating the extraction of plant species, the production, and the circulation of ayahuasca emerged only in the 2000s.

    The first environmental legislation on the issue was Resolution No 4 of 2001. In this resolution, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA) addresses the regulation of the extraction and transport of the species Banisteriopsis caapi (jagube) and Psychotria viridis (chacrona), which are used in the making of ayahuasca. The document stipulates that the Authorization for Transportation of Forest Materials (ATPF) requires a registration process with IBAMA/Acre, valid for one year. To be able to apply for a permit, the institution needs to be registered as Church Corporation. The applicant is also required to present a project for forest management and reforestation (IBAMA, 2001).

    One of the innovative points of this resolution is the concern with the techniques regarding the collection of forest products. It indicates that the religious groups cannot cause environmental damage that endangers the natural habitat of the species; ensuring, thus, their conservation.

    One of the innovative points of this resolution is the concern with the techniques regarding the collection of forest products. It indicates that the religious groups cannot cause environmental damage that endangers the natural habitat of the species; ensuring, thus, their conservation. In case of disobedience, or in case of collection of materials without authorization, the institution may be fined and lose the right to request the authorization for a period of 12 months. To prevent losses, the seized material can be distributed to other institutions previously registered with IBAMA/Acre (IBAMA, 2001).

    IBAMA also proposes partnerships between ayahuasca groups and owners of land in the licensing phase for deforestation, so that the groups can collect the species prior to the deforestation process. As Thevenin (2017) points out, in the state of Rondônia, the advance of deforestation due to the increase in agricultural and cattle-raising activities has resulted in a decrease in forest areas and, consequently, in a decline in the availability of these plants in their natural habitat. Thus, the possibility of using forest products that would be lost in deforestation processes can be considered a pioneering point of the legislation.  However, IBAMA’s initiative is quite limited, since most of the deforestation in the Amazon region occurs illegally.

    In 2010, the environmental legislation on ayahuasca in the State of Acre was reevaluated by the State Council of Environment, Science, and Technology (CEMACT), together with the State Forestry Council (CFE). These institutions created Joint Resolution No 4 in order to establish guidelines for the collection and transport of plant species used in the production of ayahuasca. The resolution upholds the majority of the recommendations established by IBAMA, but it also adds new elements.

    Among the innovations, one can highlight the establishment of a quota of forest resources that can be extracted per harvest and also annually. According to the resolution, there is a limit of 1200 kg of the vine and 180 kg of chacrona per harvest. It also limits the extraction to 4800 kg of the vine and 720 kg of chacrona per year. It is worth noting that this measure refers only to native forest resources. The materials extracted from the group’s cultivated areas are not accounted for (CEMACT & CFE, 2010).

    Another innovative point refers to growing concern related to the accounting of the material collected and the amount of ayahuasca produced. The resolution stipulates that ayahuasca groups have a deadline of 30 days after the harvest to submit a report containing the following information: a description of the place of harvest and the identification of the area; the date of the harvest; the amount of harvested material in kilograms; the amount of ayahuasca produced in liters and the date on which the preparation occurred; the procedures adopted for extraction and gathering; and the annual quota utilized (CEMACT & CFE, 2010).

    This measure has important consequences for these groups, since it limits the extraction of the species to their territories, preventing not only the harvesting in other areas but also the transportation of the plants from their territories to other locations.

    Finally, it is important to stress that this resolution, unlike the previous one, mentions Indigenous peoples and traditional communities. The agencies state that the extraction of forest resources by traditional and Indigenous communities carried out in their own territories are exempted from licensing. In contrast, it stresses that this exemption does not include the transportation of these forest resources beyond their area of origin. This measure has important consequences for these groups, since it limits the extraction of the species to their territories, preventing not only the harvesting in other areas but also the transportation of the plants from their territories to other locations. However, before addressing the consequences of such a measure for Indigenous peoples and the controversies associated with it, we will focus briefly on the environmental legislation in Rondônia, another Amazonian state in which the use of ayahuasca plays a central role.

    Discover Indigenous Reciprocity Iniciative of the Americas

    In November 2015, the state of Rondônia enacted Bill 3.653 (Rondônia State Legislature, 2015) and Bill 3,672 (Rondônia State Government, 2015), which grant religious freedom for the use of ayahuasca in the state. There is no novelty in relation to what has already been proposed in previous environmental legislation in Acre. The Bills reaffirm the requirement for registration as a Church Corporation to apply for a permit from the state environmental agency in order to collect and transport forest resources. The document does not establish, nonetheless, the norms for the extraction and collection of the species. Interestingly, although the need for registration as a Church Corporation is a common feature in both states, the specific issues related to harvesting techniques are restricted to the state of Acre.      

    As Bia Labate (personal communication) noted, “it is exemplary to worry about conservation of the plant materials to  produce ayahuasca, and to stimulate local sustainable production by each ayahuasca church in Brazil; however, this legislation was created before Indigenous people were circulating more frequently outside the Amazon, and also creates un-realistic heavy bureaucratic burdens for small urban organizations that can’t meet the demands of the legislation. It has therefore been a mix of legitimate environmental protections and selective targeting of certain groups.”

    This issue has generated a series of problems and controversies among Indigenous peoples as they insert themselves into the urban circuits of ayahuasca. Occupied predominantly by ayahuasca religions and neoayahuasquero groups, the presence of the Indigenous peoples in these circuits has increased significantly since the 2000s. Their presence gained prominence especially because of multicultural festivals in Acre that attract the attention of tourists, and the promotion of workshops, retreats, and ceremonies for middle-class groups and foreigners in the urban centers of Brazil (Labate & Coutinho, 2014).

    As a result, Amazonian Indigenous groups have been consolidating a political agenda related to the use of ayahuasca. An important milestone was the I Yubaká Hayrá – Indigenous Ayahuasca Conference, held in 2017 in the Poyanawa Indigenous Land, Acre (Dias, 2018; Tukano, 2019). One of the main results of the conference was the initiative to establish an “Internal Recommendation Letter” (The representatives of the Indigenous Peoples of the Juruá Valley, 2017). The letter condemns the disrespect on behalf of state agencies concerning the use ayahuasca by Indigenous peoples outside their territories. In order to solve this predicament, the letter suggests the possibility of applying for registration as a Church Corporation (for an update on this issue, check the Recommendation Letters from the 2017 and 2018 Indigenous Ayahuasca conference here).

    This issue is extremely relevant, since the Brazilian legislation requires the groups to be registered as Church Corporations in order to harvest the plants, to receive and send shipments, and to transport plants and the drink in its final form. Thus, as the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon insert themselves in the urban ayahuasca circuits in Brazil, they are faced with legal restrictions. 

    This issue is extremely relevant, since the Brazilian legislation requires the groups to be registered as Church Corporations in order to harvest the plants, to receive and send shipments, and to transport plants and the drink in its final form. Thus, as the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon insert themselves in the urban ayahuasca circuits in Brazil, they are faced with legal restrictions. 

    Specifically, the possibility of registration as a Church Corporation is controversial among Indigenous leaders. One can find statements from Indigenous leaders who already consider the Indigenous use of ayahuasca as a religious practice. These leaders question the need to institutionalize something that is already an intrinsic part of Indigenous religiosity. This becomes clear in the statement of Biraci Brasil, who was prevented from traveling with ayahuasca, and was barred from airports in Acre on more than one occasion.

    Authorization? What an awful thing. Christians place their Bibles everywhere (in hotels, on airplanes, in churches…). Muslims have the Koran. They are respected all over the world. What about our religion? 

    “Authorization? What an awful thing. Christians place their Bibles everywhere (in hotels, on airplanes, in churches…). Muslims have the Koran. They are respected all over the world. What about our religion?” (Biraci Brasil in Santos, 2018, p. 136, our translation).

    However, there are other Indigenous leaders who take a different stance, positioning themselves in a more radical way towards the Brazilian government. Some of them question the legitimacy of the legal mechanisms established by state agencies regarding the use, production, and circulation of ayahuasca.

    “If we are going to use these instruments, create organizations to be able to travel with our ayahuasca, we will be giving in, weakening ourselves…. It’s clear that this cannot be solved just by putting it on paper. This is a deeper process” (Francisco Pianko in Santos, 2018, p. 138, our translation).

    Thus, the insertion of Indigenous peoples in the urban ayahuasca circuits, and the lack of specific legislation for them, gave rise to a new set of demands, such as the freedom to produce and consume ayahuasca beyond their territories. In light of this, the Indigenous peoples are not only creating a new political agenda, but they are also questioning the legitimacy of the Brazilian state to develop policies that meet their demands.

    It is undeniable that the development of environmental policies regarding ayahuasca is an important breakthrough when it comes to the establishment of parameters for the use of natural resources and the preservation of the plant species. However, these policies have created a series of obstacles to the expansion of the Indigenous use of ayahuasca in Brazil. One can argue that this is not a deliberate discriminatory government act, since Indigenous people have complete autonomy to collect the plants, produce, and consume ayahuasca in their own territories. Nevertheless, the development of policies directed primarily towards religious groups and the neglect by state agencies vis-à-vis the rights of Indigenous peoples beyond their territories have created new problems. These controversies become increasingly evident as the Indigenous use of ayahuasca is reaching a broader scope in Brazil, highlighting the urgent need for the development of public policies that meet their demands.

    On one hand, the environmental legislation creates parameters for a sustainable use of ayahuasca, but it also consolidates a restrictive frame of ayahuasca use as “religion,” making all ayahuasca groups conform to this category and to present themselves accordingly.

    On one hand, the environmental legislation creates parameters for a sustainable use of ayahuasca, but it also consolidates a restrictive frame of ayahuasca use as “religion,” making all ayahuasca groups conform to this category and to present themselves accordingly. On the other hand, as Bia Labate (personal communication, 2021) noted, “the heavy bureaucratic burdens created by this environmental legislation makes it challenging for small urban groups, without financial resources, to accomplish the requirements of the law. In practical terms, it has acted as a selective means to protect some groups and target others.” As Labate highlights, these measures affect not only the Indigenous groups that use ayahuasca, but also neoayahuasquero groups and dissidents from the major ayahuasca religions. Hence, the logic developed to guide the environmental legislation highlights an important problem regarding the policies on ayahuasca in Brazil: They grant legal recognition and legitimization of the few institutionalized groups that can afford to comply with the intricate state regulations, but at the cost of the exclusion of many other ayahuasca groups.

    Featured art by Trey Brasher.

    References

    Conselho Estadual De Meio Ambiente, Ciências E Tecnologia (CEMAT) & Conselho Estadual De Florestas (CFE). (2010). Joint resolution No 4. Acre. https://www.bialabate.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/Resolucao_CEMACT_CFE_N_004_20_Dez_2010.pdf

    Dias, M. (2018). 1ª Conferencia indígena da ayahuasca yubaka-hayra no Acre a sabedoria dos antigos [First Indigenous conference on ayahuasca yubaka-hayra in Acre: The wisdom of the ancients] [Blog post]. Bialabate.net. https://www.bialabate.net/news/1a-conferencia-indigena-da-ayahuasca-yubaka-hayra-no-acre-a-sabedoria-dos-antigos.

    Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA). (2001). Resolution No 4. Acre. http://www.mestreirineu.org/portaria_004_ibama.htm

    Labate, B. C., & Coutinho, T. (2014). “My grandfather gave ayahuasca to Mestre Irineu”: Reflections on the entrance of Indigenous peoples into the urban circuit of ayahuasca consumption in Brazil. Curare, 37(3),181–194. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301633920_My_grandfather_gave_ayahuasca_to_mestre_irineu_Reflections_on_the_entrance_of_indigenous_peoples_into_the_urban_circuit_of_Ayahuasca_consumption_in_Brazil#fullTextFileContent

    Rondônia State Government (2015). Bill 3.672. Rondônia, Brazil. https://www.bialabate.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Lei-3672-Rondonia-2015.pdf

    Rondônia State Legislature (2015). Bill 3.653. Rondônia, Brazil. https://www.bialabate.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Lei-3653-Rondonia-2015.pdf

    Santos, F. L. (2018). “Índio não usa droga, ele usa medicina”: a criminalização da ayahuasca indígena [“Indigenous peoples don’t use drugs, they use medicine”: The criminalization of the Indigenous use of ayahuasca] [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), Rio de Janeiro. http://portal.iphan.gov.br/uploads/ckfinder/arquivos/Disserta%C3%A7%C3%A3o_Fabiana%20Lima%20dos%20Santos.pdf

    The Representatives of the Indigenous Peoples of the Juruá Valley – Apolima-Arara, Ashaninka, Huni Kuin, Jaminawa, Jaminawa-Arara, Kuntanawa, Nawa, Noke Koi, Nukini, Puyanawa, Shanenawa, Yawanawá, and Shawãdawa (2017). Internal letter of recommendations. Chacruna. https://chacruna.net/declaration-of-the-1st-brazilian-indigenous-conference-on-ayahuasca/

    Thevenin, J. M. R. (2017). A natureza nos caminhos de ayahuasca: territorialidade, arranjos institucionais e aspectos fitogeográficos de conservação florestal na Amazônia [Nature on the paths of ayahuasca: Territoriality, institutional arrangements, and phytogeographic aspects of forest conservation in the Amazon] [Doctoral dissertation]. Paulista State University (UNESP). https://neip.info/novo/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/thevenin_ayahuasca_territorialidade_-institucionais_-fitogeogra%CC%81ficos_UNESP_2017.pdf

    Tukano, D. (2019). The first Indigenous ayahuasca conference (Yubaka Hayrá) in Acre demonstrates political, cultural, and spiritual resistance. Chacruna. https://chacruna.net/the-first-indigenous-ayahuasca-conference-yubaka-hayra-in-acre-demonstrates-political-cultural-and-spiritual-resistance/


    Take a minute and buy our books and goods:


    Did you enjoy reading this article?

    Please support Chacruna's work by donating to us. We are an independent organization and we offer free education and advocacy for psychedelic plant medicines. We are a team of dedicated volunteers!

    Can you help Chacruna advance cultural understanding around these substances?

    Become a Chacruna Member

    To make a direct donation click the button below:



    Wednesday, June 9th, 2021 from 12-1:30pm PST REGISTER FOR THIS EVENT HERE There is growing enthusiasm in Jewish communities about possible ancient use and modern applications of plant medicine in Jewish spiritual development.  Psychedelic Judaism introduce new potential modes of  healing...