Peyote persecution

Peyote shamans Leo, Raven and Moses Mercado are being persecuted by Pinal County officials in Northeastern Arizona.
The Mercados are members of the Native American Church (NAC), a centuries-old organization dedicated to the traditions and sacraments of the peyote religion. Moses Mercado is the Mercado’s ten-year-old son; he sings ancient peyote songs and plays folk instruments during peyote ceremonies.

The NAC and affiliated groups and individuals, such as Mexico’s Huichol Indians who use cacti to obtain visions and sustain cultural traditions, are supposed to be protected by international, constitutional and local statutes that guarantee unfettered religious expression.

Instead, peyotists have been ruthlessly attacked. The Mercados were victims of a massive raid by armed police in 1995. Officers swarmed their rural Arizona desert church site, destroying sacred tipis and stealing nearly a thousand peyote cacti, which are endangered and threatened species in much of their native range. (CC#13, Grandfather peyote)

The Mercados were thrown in a jail dungeon, denied due process, and libeled by law enforcement officers. Later, all charges were dropped and the cacti returned.

They planted more peyote gardens, and constructed new tipis and sacred sites. Their Peyote Foundation continued to offer purification rituals, and networked with Huichol artists whose cacti-inspired hallucinatory art is highly valued by collectors and anthropologists.

In January, 1999, gun-toting sheriff raiders returned to the Mercado homestead, holding the family at gunpoint while serving an illegal search warrant. Computers, church donations, jewelry and thousands of peyote plants were stolen during this raid. (CC#18, Arizona’s Peyote Foundation raided)

The Mercados have never been charged with a crime relating to the raid, which means they have few official avenues of asking police to return their property.

In December, 2000, county district attorney Carter Olson and other officials convinced the environmentally destructive mining company (ASARCO) that owned the land on which Mercado lived to revoke the lease agreement between ASARCO and the woman Mercado sublets his property from.

Officials threatened to charge the woman with drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering, alleging that taking rent money from Mercado meant she was participating in illegal drug deals.

Mercado says he doesn’t sell peyote, never engages in any other illegal activity, and that his landlord is totally innocent as well.

Nevertheless, he and his family were driven from their sacred site, leaving behind the saguaro, golden rabbit brush, tipis, peyote gardens, eagles, and streams that graced their rituals.

“We are religious refugees forced because of our faith to flee, to save our lives trying to find liberty in the land of the allegedly free,” Mercado said. “We have sacred peyote that we have to keep alive. Our family needs a place where we can practice our religion. We have done nothing wrong. We live like people do when they have taken a vow of poverty and have given themselves over to a spiritual calling.”

Helping the Mercados is easy and fun. Their website,, features ways to contribute to the Peyote Foundation by buying Huichol art and by other methods.

Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery made a substantial contribution to the Mercados, and urges all freedom lovers to similarly help them.


? Leo Mercado: email [email protected], website

? Unofficial Native American Church of Navajoland:

? Native American Church of Strawberry Plains Tennessee: website