Is Peyote legal? Historical and Current Peyote Legal Status

Last Updated: June 4, 2020

Peyote is a cactus plant which has native origins in North America, toward the southern side. It also grows in South Texas in abundance but due to its vigorous harvesting, it has become critically vulnerable.
Peyote is also found in Mexican states such as Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. The million-dollar question is, is Peyote legal? And if yes, where is Peyote legal?

Is Peyote Consumption Illegal?

Therefore, it is illegal for anyone not associated with the Native American Church to plant, distribute, or possess the drug. People are legally allowed to consume the drug in some states due to its role in Native American religious ceremonies.

History Of Peyote Legal Status

peyote-cactusHistorically, Peyote cactus legality was not as clear as today. In past, there was confusion whether the nondrug use of Peyote cactus is legal or illegal.
Peyote holds important value in the Native American culture. Its ceremonial and religious use dates back to more than 5000 years in Native American history. In Mexico, it is considered to be a religious deity in Huichol culture, and they associate it with spiritual enlightenment.
The use of Peyote was utterly prohibited by in 1970 when the Controlled Substance Act was passed by the Congress. The Native American Church was granted exclusion in this Act; however, there still remained the issue of Federal regulation.
Huge progress was made, in the year 1976, for Peyote’s legalization by Alan Birnbaum who founded the Native American Church of New York. He filed a suit against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) after his appeal for legalization was declined by the DEA. The matter was then escalated to the Supreme Court, and Alan Birnbaum won the case subsequently. Since then, Peyote’s religious use has been regularized for the Native American Church and its associated members.
In 1994, an amendment to the American Indian Religious Act clearly declared the legal status of Peyote. This happened chiefly due to the religious significance of the Peyote plant in the Native American culture.

Under the United States Federal Law, Peyote’s plantation, consumption, and possession are legal, only if intended for religious or ceremonial purposes, by the Native American Church and/or a member of the Native American Church.
In the U.S., law court systems have adopted the same above exemptions made by the federal law of the USA. Strictly religious usage by Native American people associated with the Native American Church is legal throughout the USA. As for non-Native American people, the use of Peyote, whether recreational or religious, is prohibited in the USA excluding a few states.

Peyote Addictive Properties

Though it is not a drug to be taken lightly, in general, peyote is not considered an addictive drug. However, the feelings of euphoria produced by a peyote trip could cause a person to develop a psychological dependence on the substance.

The exemptions were granted exclusively to the Native American Church and its affiliates. However, lately, non-Native American organizations such as The Peyote Foundation and the Peyote Way Church of God (based in Arizona) have earned similar rights to obtain and use Peyote in religious rites and rituals. This was based on the proposition that, in the US law, the exemption from prosecution was granted mainly because of the faithful religious and emotional and attachment of the people to with the Peyote cactus.
States, where the use of Peyote is not as much leniently allowed, include Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. In these states, there is a minimum requirement of Peyote enthusiasts actually being members of a renowned and dedicated religious organization or body such as The American Indian Church in Minnesota, or, the Native American Church. In a few states, people can legally join a Peyote meeting or ceremony, if the organization running that ceremony is associated with the Native American Church.

Can One Use Peyote If They Join A Native American Church?

A most astonishing and unlucky thing to note is that Texas laws are very strict in this affair. Unlucky because Texas is native to Peyote growth, the Texas law requires that in order to use Peyote, a person must not only be a member of the Native American Church, but they also should have at least twenty-five percent Native American genes in their blood.
Under the US law, when the Native American Church obtains Peyote for their ceremonial use, their supplier must be a licensed and registered person. If anyone intends to supply Peyote to the Native American Church, theшк supplier will be subject to complete registration and compliance with the laws of the state in order to qualify for such.
In Canada, recreational consumption of Peyote is illegal as is in the USA. However, if intended for religious purposes, Canadian law allows consuming Peyote. The Canadian law also permits the possession of Peyote plant and its seeds for religious purposes. Even though Mescaline (an alkaloid found in Peyote cactus) is listed under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as a Schedule III controlled substance, the Peyote plant itself is free from this classification.

Page Sources

  1. Legal Information Institute. Traditional Indian religious use of peyote.
  2. Center for Substance Abuse Research. Peyote. 2013.

Published on: August 9th, 2016

Updated on: June 4th, 2020

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.


Leave a comment

  • Philip Klasky
    In order to be clear, is it the case that peyote is currently legal for practitioners of the Native American Church in all U.S. states but some states require a certain blood quantum and/or official membership in the Native American Church for its use? Also, how does a member of the Native American Church obtain a license to transport or use peyote. I am looking for a clear understanding of the legality of the use of peyote. Thank you.
  • Priscilla Freeman
    How is it that a colony of people who live in Arizona who are not Native American can grow, use and possibly sell a class 1 drug legally? Is it legal or not?
    • Lacey Curtis
      FYI it’s schedule I not class I. My personal opinion class would make more sense but we have the schedule system as does Canada and I believe Australia
  • Thomas Jefferson
    Isn’t it against the US Constitution to give any group of citizens any privilege over any other group, based on any religious reason? Like isn’t this a core principle of the Constitution?
    • Anna
      “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion is lawful, and shall not be prohibited by the United States or any State.” -American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 The Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith (1994) is also super interesting on this subject.