'Native American church' says Carson grow-op violated policy

'Church' subject of controversy for claiming narcotics exemptions, tribal ties

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 9/12/19

The president of Oklevueha Native American Church, a controversial religious organization that uses certain narcotics in "healing ceremonies," says that a Carson resident arrested last month for …

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'Native American church' says Carson grow-op violated policy

'Church' subject of controversy for claiming narcotics exemptions, tribal ties

Posted

The president of Oklevueha Native American Church, a controversial religious organization that uses certain narcotics in "healing ceremonies," says that a Carson resident arrested last month for growing 167 marijuana plants violated the organization's code of ethics.

"It has come to our attention that you are participating in actions that are inconsistent with the Code of Ethics that you agreed to abide by," wrote President Lone Buck Buford in a letter addressed to Cynthia Fugman and her partner on Sept. 4, "therefore we are distrusting you both as members of Oklevueha Native American Church."

After New Mexico State Police discovered the marijuana plants, dried marijuana in marked bags, peyote and suspected hallucinogenic mushrooms at Fugman's property on Aug. 29, Fugman showed officers a membership card to the church, claiming she was exempt from state and federal law regulating the use of the substances.

But the legal basis for that exemption is unclear.

In response to the allegations made against Fugman and her partner, Buford stated that they were "cultivating medicine/sacrament well outside of personal consumption."

According to the Oklevueha's code of ethics, members are allowed to carry and possess enough "medicine for personal use." The organization defines that as up to 2 ounces of marijuana and 3 grams of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic and naturally occurring compound found in many varieties of mushrooms. The organization also allows its members to grow up to either six adult plants indoors or four adult plants outdoors. If plants are grown both inside and outside, then a member can only grow two adult plants inside and three adult plants outside. Rules also allow members to possess a small amount of peyote and San Pedro, cacti that contain the hallucinogenic compound mescaline.

If a member is designated by the church as a "medicine person" or "custodian," however, the limits on marijuana possession are less clear. The organization says the latter is allowed to carry "enough to share at a ceremony" and the former is "authorized to carry larger amonts from our church to individual medicine people."

The organization says it prohibits the sale of any of the substances used in its ceremonies, but that hasn't kept some of its members from winding up behind bars.

In spite of loosening state laws surrounding marijuana's medical and recreational use, the drug remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance under the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms are also classified under Schedule I.

A bill seeking to approve recreational use for marijuana in New Mexico was rejected at the state legislature in Santa Fe this year. Medical card holders or care providers in the state can grow up to 16 plants, with only four flowering plants, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, but Fugman did not claim a medical exemption.

In a press packet sent to the Taos News this month in response to Fugman's charges, the organization acknowledges that many court cases have been filed against its members since the church's founding in Utah in 2000 by James Warren "Flaming Eagle" Mooney and Richard "He Who Has the Foundation" Swallow.

In 2003, the Utah Supreme Court dismissed a case the state had filed against Mooney and his wife, Linda, for using peyote in their ceremonies, but several others have resulted in unfavorable rulings for members and branches of the church that have sprung up throughout the United States over the last 19 years.

While its founders claim that Oklevueha is tied to the Lakota Sioux Nation, The Native American Church of South Dakota denied any connection to the church in a Feb. 8, 2016 article published in Indian Country Today.

According to the church's website, membership isn't limited to people who can prove Native American ancestry. Instead, anyone can obtain a lifetime membership – for a fee of $200.

In its press materials, however, Oklevehua makes it clear that if a member encounters legal trouble over use of its "sacraments," the church offers limited legal support, and at least in some cases, the organization determines that a member has violated its code of conduct or code of ethics.

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