Folks who meet these requirements drive to the Valley from every corner of the United States to buy peyote, or as church members call it, “medicine.” James Flaming Eagle Mooney is one of them.
Peyote is a small, round cactus. It has no thorns, but has unique properties that make it an especially resilient species. If you cut what’s called the “button,” which is used in ceremonies, the root has the ability to slowly regrow a new button. Still, wild peyote is on the decline. According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there’s been at least a 30% decline over the last 20 years.
“We are overharvesting the shrinking area of the planet that actually supports wild peyote,” says Martin Terry, a professor of botany at Sul Ross State University in Alpine
“The most important document for a person to have is what we call the Certificate of Indian Blood, because that will show you who you are, who your parents are and your blood quarter; you have to be at least one-fourth [American] Indian to purchase peyote in the state of Texas, or possess peyote in the state of Texas,” Johnson says.
Native American Church members like Mooney say these laws have been used as a way to persecute their people.
In ecological terms, South Texas is known as brush country – i t’s home to lots of thorny shrubs, trees and palms. Its humid climate makes it similar to parts of Northern Mexico, and it’s only in these two places where you can find one member of the cacti family which has been controversial, to say the least: peyote – genus Lophophora – is a small cactus native to the Rio Grande Valley. It contains a psychoactive substance known as mescaline, and it’s been used as a religious sacrament in ceremonies by native cultures for centuries. But selling it is barred in every state except for the one where it grows: Texas.
“To me, it’s a symbolic representation of God. It’s basically a truth ceremony; it shows you who you are, your godliness,” Mooney says.
“Since the Spaniards set foot on these shores, there has been persecution of people who used peyote, and that continues to the Drug Enforcement Administration of today,” Terry says.
“People need to understand that law was not just to deal with peyote; it had to deal with peyote in the sense that it was a sacrament that the indigenous peoples of North and South America had used continuously, since before recorded history,” Mooney says.
In The Only State Where Selling Peyote Is Legal, The Cactus Is Threatened And Still Controversial Peyote sellers in Texas must register with the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to