Peyote occupies a curious place in the United States and Mexico: though prohibited by law, its use remains permissible in both countries for ceremonial practices in certain religions. As Alexander S. Dawson reveals in The Peyote Effect: From the Inquisition to the War on Drugs (University of California Press, 2018), this anomalous position is nothing new, as it existed as far back as the prohibitions on the use of peyote by non-Indians imposed by the Inquisition in Mexico during the colonial period. Though this ban ended with Mexico’s independence, it was not until chemists in Germany and the United States began investigating peyote’s properties in the late 19th century that its usage spread outside of Native American communities. Fears of the drug’s psychoactive effects led to a succession of state-level U.S. bans in the early 20th century, yet these were usually fragmentary in their scope, allowing for its continued usage by Native American communities outside their jurisdictions. The broader use of peyote as a hallucinogen in the 1950s led to more general efforts to outlaw it, yet the exemptions granted for its use by Native Americans in religious practices creates a distinction between them and the larger population akin to the one that existed during the colonial era hundreds of years ago.
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