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Scarcity of peyote means hard times for dealers

By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 5:56 AM EST




RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (AP) — When the state of Texas licensed him as a peyote distributor in 1990, Mauro Morales put a sign in his front yard with his name and phone number: "Peyote Dealer. Buy or Sell Peyote."


His neighbors balked, saying calling so much attention to his trade had to be against the law. "So I called Austin and said, 'I think everything's legal. I've got the paperwork. Can't I put up a sign?'" Morales recalled.


Twenty years later, the sign still stands, but it's harder than ever for Morales to make a living. The hallucinogenic cactus is more becoming difficult to find because many ranchers have stopped allowing peyote harvesters on their land, preferring to plow the grayish-green plant under so cattle can graze. Others now lease their property to deer hunters or oil and gas companies.


The result is over-harvesting of remaining stocks, making peyote even more scarce. "Things are kind of getting slower every year," said Morales, who is just one of just three Americans currently licensed to sell peyote, which grows wild in four Texas counties along the border with Mexico.


Peyote is illegal under federal law, except for use in some American Indian religious ceremonies. Since the mid-1970s, the state has licensed a small number of people to sell it to members of the Native American Church.


California voters recently rejected a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and a drug war threatens to tear Mexico apart. But Morales says his business is simple and honest.
"I try to stay out of problems," he said. "I've been doing it too long."


Morales, 67, has seven employees who search for peyote plants to harvest their "buttons," small round growths that contain the mind-altering juice mescaline, which produces a dreamlike delirium for up to 12 hours.


Users generally chew on the buttons, smoke them or boil them in water to make a drug-infused tea. The number of buttons it takes to feel psychedelic effects varies greatly by person and the potency of individual plants.


Morales' crews now bring in about 3,000 buttons per day, but even four years ago, it was 10,000. He began harvesting peyote at 14, when American Indian elders taught him to cut the buttons without harming the roots. Back then, each button could be sold to distributors for a nickel, but had to be at least as large as a half dollar.


Now Morales pays his harvesters 15 cents per button, no matter the size. "There are no more half dollar-sizes around," he said.


New peyote plants look a bit like oversized green molars. Even fully grown plants rarely get larger than an orange.


Known as "Peyoteros," the peyote distributors use information provided by families in the area to hunt the cactus down, and they know all roads and trails by heart.


Prime spots are usually hillsides that are a bit rocky and have no sand in the soil. The intense heat means harvesters can often search only until early afternoon and must contend with the occasional rattlesnake.


Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said peyote distributors sold more than 1.5 million buttons worth approximately $483,000 last year, up from nearly 1.48 million buttons with a value of $471,000 in 2008. But that's down sharply from the mid-1990s, when distributors sold more than 2.3 million buttons, according to Morales and another licensed peyote dealer, Salvador Johnson.


Mange said the number of licensed distributors in Texas has declined as the job has gotten harder. Experts have noticed the same changes.


"The cactus grows slowly, and the peyoteros are forced to go back too early and harvest re-growth buttons," said Martin Terry, a biology professor at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. He co-founded the Cactus Conservation Institute to safeguard several species, including peyote.


Harvesters once routinely uncovered 100- to 150-year-old plants but now usually settle for cacti that are less than five years old, said Johnson, who deals peyote in Mirando City, about 90 miles north of Rio Grande City, otherwise known for its thriving mesquite tree population.



Teodosio Herrera is spiritual leader of the 30-member Rio Grande Native American Church and calls peyote "the medicine," a monicker used by everyone who deals legally in the cactus. He said the problem of cutting away buttons too early is exacerbated by poachers who harvest peyote incorrectly, harming the roots so the plants cannot regenerate.


"If we don't do something to ensure survivability, it may not be around for my great-grandchildren," said Herrera, 62.


Commercial quantities of peyote grow nowhere in the U.S. outside Texas. Besides Morales and Johnson, the only other licensed peyote dealer is Morales' nephew, also in Rio Grande City. Ninety percent of peyote grows in Mexico, but it is generally not valuable enough to smuggle to the U.S. — Morales sells 100 buttons for $35.


He said there used to be poachers who hunted down their own peyote and sold it illegally on the roadside, but their ranks have also diminished along with the supply.


Morales has 300 to 500 clients per year. Buyers must be members of the Native American Church and at least one-quarter American Indian. They have to fill out paperwork providing tribal information.


The church traces its roots to the 1880s, around the time of the Wounded Knee massacre, when a new religion known as the "ghost dance" sprung up among American Indians. The church now has branches in more than 20 states and as many as 500,000 worshippers by some estimates.


Herrera, who has church members spread across South Texas, performs seven ceremonial gatherings a year with peyote. He leads more for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.


"In the '60s especially, hippies were experimenting with it," Herrera said. "To us, it's always been a spiritual medicine."


Slight and balding, Morales is extremely hard-of-hearing but chatty — switching seamlessly between English and Spanish. He shares his home with his wife and a Chihuahua that sleeps in a rusty bird cage.


Many of Morales' customers visit him to buy fresh peyote, which he breaks down with a tomato slicer and parcels out in gunny sacks. He will also mail dry buttons all over the U.S.


Many buyers stay on his property to use the peyote. In his backyard, where chickens totter about and mosquitoes feast on any exposed skin, Morales has a brick altar surrounded by a garden of peyote.


In an adjacent shed, he has wooden bins, each holding 1,000 peyote buttons in various states of aging. He generally keeps 20,000 total in stock.


Fresh peyote is fairly smooth. Older buttons become gnarled and even sprout exterior seedlings similar to the eyes on potatoes. Inside, the cactus is yellow and starts out looking moist but dries out over time. After about a month, the button becomes soft and full of bruises.
For years, Morales refrained from using peyote because doing so was against the law for him. But now he acknowledges sometimes taking it with his morning coffee.


He credits it with helping ease his heart disease. Once a day, he steps to his altar and crosses himself, offering a small prayer of thanks.


"It gets in your head after a while and feels pretty good," he said. "The plants were made by the creator. I think about that a lot."


http://www.centurylink.net/news/rea...ion=3&lang=en&_LT=UNLC_USNWU00L3_UNEWS&page=1
 
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Morales' crews now bring in about 3,000 buttons per day, but even four years ago, it was 10,000. He began harvesting peyote at 14, when American Indian elders taught him to cut the buttons without harming the roots. Back then, each button could be sold to distributors for a nickel, but had to be at least as large as a half dollar.


Now Morales pays his harvesters 15 cents per button, no matter the size. "There are no more half dollar-sizes around," he said.

well golly i wonder why? seems even native americans are "raping the land"
 

seedjar

Let's positive thinking!
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That's kind of a short-sighted criticism, don't you think? Native Americans have been managing peyote populations for hundreds or thousands of years quite successfully.
Stands are more often plowed over for agriculture and oil drilling than they are harvested to death. Populations diminished by harvesting can grow back; those where the plants have been totally eradicated and the soil structure altered cannot.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons
~Joe

PS - swords... A+ on the new avatar. I wanted this one but it's got too many frames to fit the kB limit:
amazing-s.gif

I even scaled it to the right size and everything... sniff.
 
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Yet another plant that should be legalized.

I agree.

I don't use this or the wacky tabacky, but see no reason why it shouldn't be legalized. When used in a responsible way it is no more or less harmful than alcohol.

Also see no reason why it should be taxed when legalized, but that is another conversation. :)
 

dvg

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Dexenthes

Aristoloingulamata
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This is very sad. It's so absurd that this plant is illegal. It's a small cactus which takes many years to grow to a not very impressive size.

We can only hope that with the cultivation in countries that have less fascist laws this species can thrive and remain in existence.
 

GrowinOld

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Yea,
Many years ago I used to try to purchase seed for it (as an interesting cactus/plant to grow), as it was listed in a popular seed catalog. Unfortunately, they wouldn't send it to me (good ol' USA!), however it was listed... as the same catalog was being sent out to Canada and other countries too.

I remember seeing an interview a reporter did with a guy sitting in a bar in Amsterdam, with a drink and a "smoke", etc... and the interviewer said to him, "Do you realize that if you lived in the United States that you could be arrested for what you are doing here!" The guy looked at him a moment and said, "Well, why would you want to live there?"

All I thought was...Good question! Yea, land of the "free", home of the gullible! (Have you looked lately, even what IS free... isn't free!)

Used to be that folks had common sense to guide them, not more laws! :crazy:

Interesting links dvg. Makes me wish I lived further north. The cold gets to me however, as the winter season is long enough in the mid-west as it is!
 
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When you consider that there are numerous other psychoactive cacti species which are all perfectly legal, it seems ridiculous to ban only this certain "famous" one. Because of the number of kids on this site I'm not going to post names of those other species (I hope nobody else does either) I was merely trying to make a point on the silliness of such a racist law.

I would imagine if peyoteros were allowed under the laws to collect and sell perhaps they could also buy land and farm it in it's known county ranges. The man in the article has a flowerbed but if he setup some 5 to 10 acre densely planted fields and harvested in rotation they might not have to worry so much. It is a cactus afterall, plant it and forget it, no need to irrigate heavily, etc... Indeed it grows very slowly (IIRC reading 10 years to flowering size) but it would at least establish a sort of "reservation" for the species in their natural ranges.
 
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the list of psychoactive plants is shocking to someone that has no clue......granted psychoactive does not necessarily mean a pleasant experience....some are dang scary and have a toxicity level way close to the effective dose....

off the top of my head i can think of 2 cacti other than peyote that are native to the US and psychoactive, one would surprise most......not to mention the species not native to the US that are easily found even at stores like Home Depot.....
 

dvg

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For any of you out there that like the look of Lophophora and would like to grow some...you can legally.

Mesa Garden sells a few varieties of various Lophophora species. These are legal to grow in the USA.

Granted, they are not L. williamsii, but they look very similar.

http://www.mesagarden.com/re2010.html

I have ordered many times from Steven and Linda Brack @ Mesa Garden and their cacti and succulent seeds are very fresh and true in my humble opinion.

It's best to get your orders in before the New Year though, because with their new seed list coming out then, they can get very backed up with new orders.

dvg
 

seedjar

Let's positive thinking!
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the list of psychoactive plants is shocking to someone that has no clue......granted psychoactive does not necessarily mean a pleasant experience....some are dang scary and have a toxicity level way close to the effective dose....

off the top of my head i can think of 2 cacti other than peyote that are native to the US and psychoactive, one would surprise most......not to mention the species not native to the US that are easily found even at stores like Home Depot.....

LOL. There are a number of gardens in my old neighborhood with certain flowering shrubs and other such "decorative" plants, and the college kids steal them all the time. :p
~Joe
 

Sig

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I think that the "right" to pursue happiness should include anything you want, providing it doesn't hurt other people. What gives the government the right to control your body and what you do with it? If I hurt my own body, something that L. williamsi doesn't even do, why should I be punished and then have my peers pay for my incarceration? Whether it's T. pachanoi or M. hostillis, it just doesn't make sense.

. Because of the number of kids on this site I'm not going to post names of those other species (I hope nobody else does either) I was merely trying to make a point on the silliness of such a racist law.

While I see the point of not advertising the species, I don't support withholding information just because it could be used in a crime. Knowledge is free and should be available to anyone and censorship of that is terrible. Anyone who does their research could find like 3-4 psychoactive plants in their backyard, though... sometimes more.
 
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I don't support withholding information just because it could be used in a crime. Knowledge is free and should be available to anyone and censorship of that is terrible.
I'm not withholding anything that isn't easy enough to find out, if a kid is determined he'll get on google and find out whatever they wanna know but I had hoped nobody would post any species names, making it just that much easier for them than a simple google search. I think of it this way, the more juvenile kids tape themselves using them on You Tube, doing stupid stuff and getting hurt while intoxicated on a perfectly decent houseplant in all other regards, the sooner those plants too will go the way of Salvia divinorum and others in some states which are not legal to cultivate even as ornamental plants now thanks to kids & YouTube.

This is truly the first time I've ever been accused of censorship - you ought to hear me screaming blasphemous profanities at the machines at work! :D


DVG, I would check the laws on the L. diffusa, L. fricii and those others, to an everyday cop they look just like L. Williamsii. Good luck arguing the ID in court since all Lophophora sp. contain mescaline if tested for such (as do many other cacti) and they certainly aren't going to send your possible peyote plant to a botanist lab for DNA testing against other known Lophophora species to see if it's really LW or LD or LF. They will simply charge you and be done with it - this is American law we're talking about here; level charges first and ask questions later if there's time just before the execution... ;)

There is a guy on the cacti forums who is a customs officer and he says that anything fitting the Lophophora profile is confiscated and destroyed, it doesn't matter what the tag or invoice says it is. I know the good people at MG are well intentioned but as we know the law is often not so much so. It's just my opinion but I think it's a big risk to take to grow any of the Lophophora, if someone is willing to take a risk and grow them I'm not gonna say don't do it, I'd like to see pics! LOL
 
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LOL. There are a number of gardens in my old neighborhood with certain flowering shrubs and other such "decorative" plants, and the college kids steal them all the time. :p
~Joe

lol yeah had this argument on another forum over the stupidity of trying to outlaw psychoactive plants......kinda scared a couple guys when i proved to them the kinda party i could throw with whats commonly grown in gardens....the vast majority of ppl have no clue the power plants hold....
 

seedjar

Let's positive thinking!
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If you want to really throw them for a loop, point out that human cerebrospinal fluid is a powerful hallucinogen. Nervous systems must be outlawed!
~Joe
 
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