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Verdict Reached in California Peyote Trial

Nov. 29, 1962 - Indians cannot plead religious freedom as a ground for eating a vision-producing cactus plant banned by state law, the Superior Court in San Bernardino, Calif., ruled today. The invocation of religious freedom was likened by the court to the long-rejected argument that polygamy was justified as a religious tenet. The decision involved the peyote plant, which has sacramental status in the ritual of the Native American Church, a sect involving many thousands of Indians in 19 states. Peyote’s use has been a matter of nationwide controversy for decades. Superior Judge Carl B. Hilliard found three Navajos guilty of violating the California Narcotics Law for participating in a peyote ceremony. He sentenced them to 2 to 10 years in prison and then suspended the sentence and placed them on probation for 2 years. A.L. Wirin, counsel for the ACLU, which participated in the case, immediately filed notice of intent to appeal to the State Court of Appeals. He said the issue would be carried to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. The defendants were three railway workers (pictured) from Needles, Jack Woody, 29; Dan Dee Nez, 25; and Leon B. Anderson, 44. The defense’s contention was that peyote is not truly a narcotic, although it is so specified in California state law. Indigenous to the Rio Grande Valley, peyote is very bitter and nauseating to most people, and the Federal Government does not ban it from the mail. Most states have no law against peyote.


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