A religious sect leader who claimed he imported a hallucinogenic drug to prepare a revered sacrament for his church’s ceremonies has been spared a jail sentence.
Food producer and Santo Daime church leader in Ireland, Marcus McCabe (56), from Burdautien, Clones, Co Monaghan, appeared at Dublin District Court to contest a charge under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
He said he believed the prosecution was against the fundamental rights of his church, which has its origins in Brazil.
But Judge Gerard Jones said it was illegal according to the law of the land. However, he said he was giving the man a chance and struck out the case, but warned "that does not give you a licence to carry on".
He was accused of unlawfully importing 8.5kg of a substance called N,N-Dimethyltryptamine at Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport on November 13th, 2014.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had directed summary disposal, meaning the case should remain in the District Court, which could impose a 12-month sentence for the offence. The substance is also used in the Santo Daime church’s ayahuasca sacrament.
Defence solicitor Michael French told the court the substance had a nominal value and came from Brazil. He was instructed by his client that it was a “sacrament”.
Garda Liam Mangan told the court Mr McCabe flew in through Dublin Airport but was stopped by customs officers. He had a bag in his possession which contained a certain item and a package was seized and sent for analysis, Garda Mangan said.
Garda Mangan said Mr McCabe admitted he had it in his possession. “The accused did say he was using this material for a sacrament in his church,” Garda Mangan said.
The substance was in a liquid form and no value could be put on it, the garda said.
Judge Jones inquired about the religion and Mr McCabe entered the witness box to give evidence and explain why he had the substance.
When sworn in he blessed himself and told the court he was a member of the Santo Daime faith, a Christian church originally from Brazil. His solicitor Michael French asked him if he could confirm what he did with the substance referred to by the garda.
He told the court that it was made into a tea taken with prayers.
Mr French put it to him that gardaí believed it was prohibited and, in reply, Mr McCabe said he felt this was the result of a “misunderstanding”.
“I believe this substance is in everyone in this room and is common,” he said, adding, “it really is a misunderstanding of the sacrament”.
He said it was administered during spiritual and Christian festivals throughout the year. He said “people get great benefit in making the spiritual works” and the sacrament was a “real blessing for anyone who comes an participates”.
He told Judge Jones this was done at his special house for church works in Clones and usually the services are attended by 15 to 20 people, possibly 25 for a festival.
Mr McCabe pleaded with the court that the prosecution was an interference with his church’s fundamental rights.
However, Judge Jones replied: “According to your law you are acting in the law, but according to the law of the land it is an illegal substance”.
“It is not my law, this is something that is blessed,” Mr McCabe answered.
Judge Jones said he was going to give him a chance and not convict him, but added that he was not setting a precedent nor giving McCabe the right to use the substance.
He said he was striking out the case, however, he warned Mr McCabe, “that does not give you a licence to carry on”.
The judge told Garda Mangan that he would accede to his request to make an order for destruction of the substance.
However, the defence solicitor Mr French was instructed to object and said his client was very upset by this. He said Mr McCabe has deep rooted opinions and believed it was not illegal but it was part of his religious beliefs.
The judge said he was giving him a chance and he was concerned about this substance. He asked if it was harmful and Garda Mangan submitted that it was an illegal high and he objected to the substance being handed back.
Judge Jones said he would deal with that issue on a later date, telling Mr McCabe he was a “lucky man”.