The Legalization Process

Madrinha Jessica Rochester (Founder)

Cross on Alter (Credit: Lou Gold)

Cross on Altar (Credit: Lou Gold)

Until September 2000, Céu do Montréal imported the Santo Daime sacrament through Canadian Customs, with the appropriate agricultural documents. At that time, a shipment of the Santo Daime sacrament for our Centre was intercepted by Canada Customs and given to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, the Federal Police) for investigation and analysis. Upon explaining that the tea is a sacrament used only for religious purposes, Céu do Montréal was informed that an exemption was required to be able to import the sacrament in the future, because the tea contained the controlled substances dimethyltryptamine and harmala alkaloids. It is important to note that the RCMP was extremely respectful throughout their investigation.

In April, 2001, having hired a lawyer to represent us and completed the necessary research for the application, we applied to Health Canada, the Office of Controlled Substances, for an exemption under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Acts, for the importation, transportation, and serving of the sacrament. Five years of research and investigation followed, and in July, 2006, we were informed that the evaluation of our request had been concluded and that we were granted an exemption, in principle, pending receipt of Brazilian export permission. It is important to note that throughout this period, the government officials working on our file had been and continued to be, entirely respectful towards the Santo Daime religion and our request.

The request for Brazilian export permission revealed the complexity of the situation; Brazil had no policy on export of the Santo Daime Sacrament, and many factors had to be examined including existing Brazilian national regulations as well as international laws and policiesgoverning the movement of controlled substances. Our request got caught in a catch 22, with Brazil needing import permission to allow export and Canada needing export permission before granting import permits.

Céu do Montréal faced additional challenges that dated from the time of our initial request in 2001.

A Canadian court case involving a shaman, the death of a First Nations Elder and an Ayahuasca admixture—unrelated to us, or our practices—cost us nearly two years. Health Canada waited for the court’s verdict to determine whether the two plants contained in our sacrament, Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotriaviridis, which were also in the confiscated Ayahuasca brew, were involved in the death, which proved not to be the case.

There were some ethical and administrative issues with our then Brazilian affiliate the former Eclectic Centre of the Universal Flowing Light RaimundoIrineu Serra (CEFLURIS) now known as Igreja do Culto Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal (ICEFLU). In addition, there were disagreements with some of the other Santo Daime Canadian groups that had grown out of Céu do Montréal.

A Federal election in 2006 brought in a Conservative government—that stayed in power until 2015—with policies antagonistic to our request.

Another factor that delayed our efforts was that over the course of a few years meetings organized with various departments of the Brazilian government, who were stakeholders in the issue of the export of the sacrament, were regularly being postponed or cancelled. At the time, we were led to believe that the cancellations were on the Brazilian government’s side. In the end a number of factors, including unclear international policies and challenging issues within the community of ICEFLU, played a role in the continued delays.

In 2009, based on court cases and evidence of Brazil permitting the export of Ayahuasca to countries that had been granted import permission for religious use, such as a United Statesbranch of the União do Vegetal (UDV) and European Santo Daime churches (i.e., Holland and Spain), Céu do Montréal reinitiated a request for Health Canada to research and consider the question of Canadian import permission without export permission.

In 2010, Céu do Montréal closed its affiliation and became an independent Santo Daime Church. For more background on that story, please read Céu do Montréal From Orthodoxy to Universalism.

In2012, we were obliged to use legal pressure to motivate the then Health Minister to respond to our request. We finally received a letter from the Health Minister informing us that our request for an exemption under Section 56 was denied, despite the exemption in principle received in 2006 and the complete support of the Office of Controlled Substances.

In late 2013, aware that the UDV intended to expand into Canada, Madrinha Jessica Rochester asked Jeffrey Bronfman of the UDV USA, a personal friend of hers for many years, whether UDV and Céu do Montréal could combine their efforts in the legalization process. The combination of his success in 2006 with the United States Supreme Court and Céu do Montréal’s efforts and support from the Office of Controlled Substances since 2001 seemed like the right formula to achieve our shared goal.

Our main strategy was not to go to court but to educate the Canadian government on our religions within the various stake-holding departments. In the Federal election of autumn 2015 a Liberal majority swept out the Conservative party. We now had the best hopes for the new government to support Health Canada’s original decision; one based on science and evidence of the legitimacy of our religion and the safety of our practices.

At their request, we submitted a new application to the Office of Controlled Substances. Our request for a Section 56 Exemption to import and serve our Sacrament in our rituals was granted in June 2017. At the same time, the UDV also received their exemption. The permit was granted for two years and is renewable.

The main concerns of Health Canada are:

  • the health and safety of the members and visitors;
  • non-diversion of the Santo Daime sacrament; that is, authorized ritual use only.

Health Canada required proof that:

  • the Santo Daime is a legitimate religion;
  • the Santo Daime sacrament is safe when served within the ritual norms, and with the appropriate screening for participants;
  • Céu do Montréal is a non-profit Part IICorporation, a legal entity in good standing;
  • Céu do Montréal is a single-sacrament church (meaning its members do not consume Cannabis sativa, known in the context of some Santo Daime branches as “Santa Maria”);
  • the church leader is qualified;
  • only designated members of Céu do Montréal, who are registered with the Office of Controlled Substances, are able to import, transport, possess, and serve the Santo Daime sacrament on behalf of the church;
  • the supply of the sacrament comes from a legitimate, registered Brazilian Santo Daime Church; in this case, Céu Sagrado of Sorocaba, with whom Céu do Montréal has a legal contract for the exportation of the Santo Daime sacrament;
  • international transportation and shipping of the sacrament adheres to guidelines established by the Office of Controlled Substances;
  • the sacrament is stored, transported, and served under the guidelines established by the Office of Controlled Substances;
  • members and visitors are screened for any health or medication contraindications and that members and visitors follow the necessary dietary guidelines before, and after, participating in the Santo Daime rituals.

Through our efforts, we have made it possible, in principle, for others to obtain an exemption; however, the exemption granted to Céu do Montréal does not mean that the use of Ayahuasca, or the Santo Daime sacrament, is legal in Canada. Each legitimate organization must apply to Health Canada for its own exemption, and for all information regarding the exemption process. Any importation or activities conducted with Ayahuasca or Santo Daime without a Section 56 exemption from Health Canada remains illegal in Canada.

Through the years, many people have contributed different forms of support. We offer gratitude to all those who have provided Céu do Montréal with practical, moral, spiritual and financial assistance. We also wish to acknowledge Jeffrey Bronfman of the UDV USA for his collaboration and support.

For more information please see the following Chacruna article.

For more information on regulations: CONAD Recommendations : Ayahuasca, Entheogenic Education & Public Policy, Ken Tupper Ph.D. PDF