Francisco Azorín is a veteran in the defence of cannabis clubs, an experience he applies to put recent police operations on ayahuasca ceremonies into perspective. Azorín achieved a landmark court ruling on ayahuasca in the Malaga provincial court in 2021. It recognised that ayahuasca cannot be considered a “toxic drug, narcotic or psychotropic substance”. Only two years have passed, but the current situation of the plant is very different. Nobody would dare to speak today of the “(pen)last judgement on ayahuasca”.
We talked to Azorín, member of the Murcian law firm Brotsanbert, about laws, politics, police strategies and the role of shamanism in the booming ‘psychedelic renaissance’.
In the light of the latest police operations, do you think there is a political campaign against ayahuasca?
I have been involved with the cannabis and industrial hemp movement for a long time, and I always say that it is a matter of probabilities: when cannabis clubs were few, the provincial courts considered them legal and neither society nor the police saw them as a problem, but when everyone starts to open cannabis clubs, the Public Prosecutor’s Office publishes a report in which it asks to charge them with a crime against public health so that the cases reach the provincial courts and the appeal reaches the Supreme Court, so that it would condemn the cannabis social clubs.
The same thing happened with the industrial hemp case. The Public Prosecutor’s Office considers that cannabis flower, whether or not it has THC, is a crime and therefore has to be charged.
The same thing is happening with ayahuasca and entheogens. This has always been done from the underground until, all of a sudden, ayahuasca associations and retreat houses started to emerge and the accusations began. In the case of Juan Diego Eldorado, who was the first, the Guardia Civil intervened when they saw the website. In the case of the famous sect in Asturias, it was due to the denunciation of an evangelist pastor whose sister had been in ayahuasca ceremonies, who denounced the anti-sect mail. I don’t know if this is due to a strategy or to chance. What is clear is that the police have already put their antennae on ayahuasca retreats and can investigate, and if you investigate on the internet, it is easy for them to intervene in ceremonies. However, it is also easy to intervene in all cannabis clubs in a year and it is not done. I think the same thing is going to happen with ayahuasca: they will give a stick to one while there are ten others operating.
In the cases of Asturias and Berga, the police have used the anti-cult mailing you were referring to. Is there any legal figure that prohibits or regulates cults?
It seems that this mail has not been created specifically for the ayahuasca issue. Secondly, it could be that they are trying to accuse people of being a sect because that is the way to also accuse them of being an illicit association when they are not yet constituted as an association. In the case of cannabis, they were accused of illicit association so that the case would go to the provincial court and finally to the Supreme Court. In the case of ayahuasca, if people form associations, they could be charged as a crime against public health and illicit association, and we will see what sentence would be handed down, but because of the amount of the penalties, the case would go to the provincial court, which seems dangerous to me because the appeal would go to the Supreme Court and we can’t trust the Supreme Court very much. Right now there is no Supreme Court ruling that clarifies the issue of ayahuasca, an issue that is clarified in many provincial court rulings, especially the one I got in Malaga in 2021, which is very clarifying as to why ayahuasca is not a controlled substance.
I don’t know if the police are trying to add fuel to the fire so that the accusation of a cult is also accompanied by the accusation of illicit association. Is it something mediatic and sensationalist? Maybe so, in a context in which entheogens appear regularly in the general media and no longer frighten anyone. Of course, if you add in sectarian groups, chemical submission and rape… it’s even scarier, and the establishment always tries to put fear in people’s minds.
It can also be an attempt to intimidate the rest of the ayahuasca community.
Of course it is. In the end, they know that, although they can’t stop it, they do manage to cut it down; people who are more cautious stop doing ceremonies and the market shrinks.
The only thing that is certain is that all the cases of suitcases with ayahuasca have been closed, except for the one in Malaga, which did not want to close the case, and then we got a good sentence.
Francisco Azorín, ‘Past, present and future of the legality of psychedelic substances’, during the recent Psychedelic Conference in Fuerteventura.
And in the case of Yecla, what are you doing now?
In the case of Yecla, the problem is that they seized 3 kilos of cannabis, but the truth is that it was for their own consumption. And they were not carrying out cannabis ceremonies. In addition, they saw the three plants from which the three kilos came and that is why they asked for a search warrant. It is very important not to have coca leaf or cannabis in the ceremonies because they are prohibited substances.
Why is it not appropriate to call ayahuasca “medicine”?
The word “medicine” is a very nice word to avoid calling it a “drug”, but I would not use it. Not to speak of depression, anxiety, addictions… in its day this was tried to stop with alternative therapies by the Aznar government in 1996 and, later, with the Ministerial Order on prohibited plants by Acebes in 2004, which tried to prohibit 197 plants and even cannabis magazines. The thing is that the Sazatornil report came out saying that cannabis magazines did not induce drug trafficking. For its part, the Law on Prohibited Plants was annulled by the National High Court, and this annulment was later ratified by the Supreme Court. However, the BOE does not show this order as annulled, so it seems that it is still in force and that, therefore, plants such as B. caapi would be prohibited, but this is not the case. Is this an intentional omission? It may well be.
The media are giving coverage to the psychedelic renaissance, while reproducing the cult-like accusations made by the police against shamanic practices. Do you think the ground is being prepared to open the door to the former – psychedelics in a biomedical context – while vetoing the latter?
Of course it is. Here it is about paving the way for standardised biomedical treatments and following the canons of European clinical trials and drug manufacturing, which is fine, but you can also recognise herbal medicines, traditional treatments or even do like herbalism: say that these plants are not useful to cure certain diseases but that they can be consumed. There are ways, but the pharmaceutical industry does not want to recognise these types of plants, but rather their active ingredient, an active ingredient which, in the case of psilocybin and ayahuasca, as they are not patentable, they are trying to patent synthesis methods or isomers, such as esketamine, patented by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). These are a few examples that show that the pharmaceutical industry is behind the molecules of these psychedelics and that there will be a war in which they will try to destroy the shamanic ceremonial model so that public opinion will only look favourably on biomedical practices.
Is there a risk – if this course is followed – that Spain will ban ayahuasca, as Italy did last year?
It happened in France, there were also negative rulings in Holland, in Italy… I hope not with this government, but if in the November elections the coalition of these two parties that we know comes out, anything can happen, of course.
Do you think the PP is more prohibitionist than the PSOE?
The PSOE is very prohibitionist, but the PP and Vox are the Church and this is closely linked to new rituals, new beliefs, witchcraft… and that’s where the Inquisition comes in. If this becomes a problem, the legislator will act but at first they are going to try to solve it through the courts, because they can also act through article 359 of Harmful Substances and there they would have to make a counter-expertise and tell the Agencia del Medicamento “these plants are not toxic or addictive and, although they may have adverse effects, they are recognised to treat addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD”. I’m waiting for someone to be charged with 359 to go to the expert witnesses and see how the court rules. I have rulings that say that section 359 of Harmful Substances does not apply, but if they want to block this they can do whatever they want. If they’ve dealt with cannabis, imagine ayahuasca…
–‘El (pen)último sobre la ayahuasca en España’, ICEERS, abril de 2021.
–‘Afinando el alma: enseñanzas sobre el quijotesco intento de importar legalmente ayahuasca en España’, Plantaforma, 1 de febrero de 2023.