AG's Office Will Seek Stay of Peyote Ruling

AG's Office Will Seek Stay of Peyote Ruling

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The attorney general's office has agreed to file a stay against a state high court ruling that a Utah County couple was not guilty of felony drug charges when it distributed peyote in church ceremonies near Spanish Fork in 2000.

Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson told the Daily Herald of Provo on Saturday he has reached an agreement with Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office to try to block the June 22 Utah Supreme Court ruling regarding the religious use of peyote.

"We don't want this case to come back to our court," Bryson said. "The attorney general's office will file a stay so that we can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Classified as a controlled substance, peyote is illegal to possess in the United States, with an exception for members of the Native American Church, who consider it sacred.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the church has the right to define its own membership, Indian or not.

The case involved James Warren "Flaming Eagle" Mooney and his wife, Linda, who founded the Utah chapter of the Oklevueha Earthwalks Native American Church in 1997 in Benjamin, near Spanish Fork.

In October 2000, Utah County sheriff's deputies raided the church, saying Mooney was illegally distributing peyote to non-American Indians.

Deputies seized nearly 17,500 peyote buttons in addition to the church's computers and records. Mooney and his wife were arrested the next month and posted bond. The Utah chapter of the church has since declared bankruptcy.

Mooney said the state Supreme Court ruling was a victory for minority religious rights in Utah. On Saturday, he said he was honored that his case could now represent minority rights before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Utah Supreme Court decision set a precedent in Utah and perhaps in 22 other states that do not have laws protecting the administration of peyote to non-Indians as part of religious ceremonies.

Last week, a drug charge against a Provo man accused of distributing peyote to non-Indians was dismissed due to the ruling.

David Hamblin, 49, was charged in 2000 with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

Used for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years by American Indians, peyote is often taken in Native American Church ceremonies as medicine to help the severely addicted and depressed. Long ignored by traditional medicine, the silver-dollar-sized cactus is now the subject of a five-year Harvard Medical School study, and other doctors and scientists are examining its properties as well.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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