Trujillo was acquitted in 1966 of possession of peyote in the Denver case and again in 1987 in the Globe case. Dr. Andrew Weil, a Tucson guru of alternative medicine and health food who teaches at the University of Arizona, acted as an expert witness in Trujillo's 1987 case.

During his testimony for the defense, Weil detailed his studies of peyote at Harvard University, the drug's impact on health and well-being, and the hallucinogenic effects of ingesting the plant.

Mescaline (the ingredient that makes people hallucinate) is the most commonly known psychoactive alkaloid in peyote, but as Kent is quick to point out — and Weil attests to in the court transcript — peyote has more than 50 different active alkaloids that make it unique.

The grave site of Peyote founder 
Immanuel Trujillo (inset) maintains a prominent place on church property near where church members take spirit walks.
Andrew Pielage
The grave site of Peyote founder Immanuel Trujillo (inset) maintains a prominent place on church property near where church members take spirit walks.
Anne Zapf sitting in the peyote house where there are more than 10,000 plants in various stages of growth.
Andrew Pielage
Anne Zapf sitting in the peyote house where there are more than 10,000 plants in various stages of growth.

"The effect of eating peyote is due to the interaction of all of these alkaloids. It can't be equated with eating pure mescaline, and so I think that [this] creates a lot of confusion in research because most of the research had been done with isolated mescaline and not with peyote," Weil stated. "I don't think the two are equivalent."

Through his testimony Weil described his observations of individuals who had taken peyote.

"The initial effects, if a sufficient dose is eaten, are — probably within 30 minutes to an hour — some feelings of physiological distress, nausea, discomfort, fullness in the stomach, sweating, chills," he testified.

"These symptoms may last for one to two hours, and then usually subside and are replaced by...calmness, relaxation — during which the psychological changes occur," he said. "The total length of effects of eating a sufficient dose of peyote the range of ten to twelve hours."

The dosage necessary to experience hallucinations is hard to predict, Weil continued. But throughout his testimony, he explained that most people who take the drug need to ingest more than six cactus buttons to have a measurable effect. (The 21 grams used for Peyote Way's spirit walks is much more than six buttons.)

Weil, who admitted taking peyote on at least three occasions, testified that the drug isn't harmful, particularly in the right setting.

"I think these are safe drugs if they're used in the appropriate context," Weil told the court, "much safer than many drugs we routinely administer to people for medical purposes."

Inside a small greenhouse at Peyote Way, thousands of button-size cacti cover the room's dirt floor like a rumpled green carpet. Kent estimates that there are 8,000 to 10,000 individual plants ranging in age from 10 to 100 years old. It's hard to imagine that each of the fragile-looking plants represents, technically, a felony to cultivate it, distribute it or consume it.

Because the DEA classifies peyote as a Schedule I drug (along with LSD, heroin, ecstasy and even marijuana), the penalty for "unlawful distribution, possession or intent to distribute" any amount could result in up to a $10 million fine and 30 years in prison, although this rarely happens. Special Agent Ramona Sanchez with the Phoenix division of the DEA says she's not aware of any recent peyote cases in Arizona.

Congress' 1978 passage of the Native American Religious Freedom Act doesn't protect Peyote Way from federal law enforcement because it's not affiliated with the Native American Church. That law has been challenged several times (including by Peyote Way) based on the free-exercise clause in the First Amendment, but the courts have struck down each attempt.

Peyote Way is able to avoid prosecution mainly because Arizona is one of six states where the use of peyote for bona fide religious purposes has been legalized without deference to race — meaning individuals don't need to be part of the Native American Church to legally take the drug for religious reasons.

Still, there's much controversy surrounding the legality of taking peyote, and if federal authorities wanted to prosecute Peyote Way for its use, cultivation and distribution of the plant, they probably could make a case. Peyote Way Church technically is in violation of federal law, as neither Kent nor Zapf are Native Americans. Special Agent Sanchez, however, deferred to local and state authorities when asked about Peyote Way, suggesting that the DEA has taken a hands-off approach regarding peyote use, in the same way the Obama administration recently has backed off going after medical-marijuana distribution in states including Arizona.

Any inherent possibility of prosecution never deterred Kent and Zapf from pursuing their church's mission nor deterred people from making the trek out into the desert of Aravaipa to experience the effects of the hallucinogen.

Kent makes clear that the church doesn't sell peyote, and he says the plants it grows on the property never leave it.

"As far as the state of Arizona is concerned, they understand that in order for us to practice our religion, we need our sacrament," he says.

Kent and Zapf think their 35-year relationship with Graham County sheriff Preston J. Allred also has helped smooth the way for the church.

When they were selling Mana Pottery to Goldwater's, the couple would take chipped pieces to the courthouse in Safford, intending to give it away.

"The secretaries would give us $10, and the deputies would [give] a little less," Kent says with a laugh, adding, "They saw that whatever we were up to, it wasn't criminal or dangerous."

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