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Legalizing peyote will 'detrimentally' affect religious practices, Navajo Nation says

The Azeé plant is considered sacred to the Navajo Nation's cultural traditions and the tribe wants to prevent states from decriminalizing it.
In this photo made Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, peyote dealer Mauro Morales handles peyote buttons in Rio Grande City, Texas, Friday. Morales has a shed full of peyote behind his house and a sign in his front yard identifying him as a legal distributor of the hallucinogen, just in case would-be customers happen past. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

NAVAJO COUNTY, Ariz. — Leaders of the Navajo Nation are declaring their opposition to states potentially attempting to legalize peyote, claiming the hallucinogenic substance is sacred to the tribe's cultural practices.

Representatives of the tribe announced Thursday they're working with state lawmakers to ensure peyote, also known as Azeé, is protected from public recreational use. 

“Azeé is sacred medicine that heals our people in Native American Church ceremonies, and that is how it should remain," said Navajo Council Chair Eugenia Charles-Newton. "This medicine is used for religious purposes to heal an individual physically, mentally, and spiritually."

Peyote contains psychoactive properties that some tribes believe have the capability to cure medical maladies. 

California lawmakers introduced legislation last year to decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs, but peyote was removed from the list of substances contained in the proposed bill.   

Federal law currently allows members of Native American Churches to extract the peyote plant for religious purposes. The recent decriminalization of recreational marijuana by various states, including Arizona, worries some tribal leaders that peyote could soon also become available for consumer use.

Navajo leaders say they're worried decriminalizing Azeé for the wider public could result in it being sold freely without regard for its ceremonial significance. 

"I believe that American Indian religious rights and beliefs are threatened by non-Native interests seeking profit by legalizing Azeé," said Navajo Vice Chairman Thomas Walker Jr.

Some Navajo leaders intend to introduce legislation that would officially oppose the decriminalization of peyote by the states. 

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