AEP: At a Glance
The AEP: At a Glance
Updated December 2022
A religious professional organization and mutual aid society
uniting practitioners from many traditions
who share a sincere belief in the religious nature of the entheogenic experience
in order to expand safe access to such experiences.
The Association of Entheogenic Practitioners is a vocational association for entheogenic practitioners. The Association educates the public on entheogenic practices protected by state and federal religious freedom laws; provides continuing education, community support, and accountability mechanisms for professional entheogenic practitioners; and offers legal defense benefits for Members in good standing who encounter governmental interference with their practices.
10,000 Ceremonies: What Safe Access Looks Like
The mission of the organization is access to safe and meaningful experiences with entheogens. As a metric for what success would look like, we suggest an open, legal ecosystem capable of providing experiences to 10,000 people a day in the United States, which would mean access to one experience per lifetime per American. We estimate current capacity to be about 1% of that target, though that number will grow soon with FDA authorization of psychedelic therapies and the passage of decriminalization initiatives in a growing number of jurisdictions. Our hope as a community is not to "win" this growing market but to serve as an exemplar of responsible practice, doing our work as well and as openly as we can in order to spark grassroots/open-source spiritual revival.
Who We Are
The Association has 40+ members across North America, from Maine to Maui to Miami. Members include clergy, clinicians, therapists, and practitioners from indigenous and underground traditions, ranging from novices to elders with decades of experience. Community members are estimated to be facilitating a total of 150-200 entheogenic experiences per month.
We often say we're an organization of religious people rather than a religious organization. We welcome all sacraments and traditions that follow the structure of the “entheogenic ritual” described in the ritual guidelines and as practiced in accordance with our code of ethics.
The AEP is a member-managed organization with an elected Board of Managers. 23 members ratified our Constitution in February, 2022, appointing founding member Danni Peterson as initial executive director, and a board was elected in May, 2022. You can read a brief history of the organization by Danni here.
Our Circles and Ceremonies
The Association has hosted quarterly ceremonial gatherings in North Carolina since June, 2021, developing a stable practice circle of 10-15 regular attendees. We practice with MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms and cannabis. Members rotate as space holders so that all have the opportunity to participate and learn from each other’s practices. This is the site for the most recent event. New circles are forming now in Denver, Austin, and Washington, D.C. The AEP women’s circle began meeting online in January 2022, and will have its first in-person gathering in April, 2023.
We believe that clear agreements are the foundation of strong practitioner-participant relationships. All attendees complete our Participation Agreement and Health Self-Assessment, including event organizers. We also begin ceremonies with additional spoken agreements about issues like touch, confidentiality, maintaining the ceremonial container, consumption of sacraments, and responsibility for emergencies.
The Association of Entheogenic Practitioners is a Maryland non-profit corporation intended to be treated as a church or a convention or association of churches for federal tax purposes under IRC Sec. 508(c)(1)(A).
The AEP asserts its rights and the rights of its members under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and other applicable laws to responsibly use entheogens as sacraments in bona fide religious ceremonies pursuant to sincerely held religious beliefs, regardless of their status as controlled substances. This document is a legal opinion by Executive Director Danni Peterson describing how one member’s practice may qualify for religious freedom protection under federal law (shared pseudonymously and with permission).
By Executive Director Danni Peterson
Our community faced two significant legal challenges in 2022.
In early 2021, Rabbi Benjamin Gorelick became a member of the AEP and a client of my legal practice. As reported in the press, Denver police raided the grow facility of his synagogue, The Sacred Tribe, in January, 2022. Rabbi Ben turned himself in to Denver police after a warrant was issued in February.
The legal process was consensually delayed for several months. The defense team submitted a “mitigation packet” to the District Attorney praying for the charges to be dropped in early October. Colorado decriminalized psilocybin among other substances in the November election. At his arraignment on December 8, the people of Colorado dropped all charges against Rabbi Ben "in the interest of justice." [Addendum: As of March 1, 2023, Rabbi Ben is no longer a public member in good standing of the AEP.]
In May, 2022, Baba Tehron George-El, a practitioner and member of Temple Mother Earth, a BIPOC-focused medicine community in Washington, DC (founded by AEP member Sonatta Camara), was arrested in one of Maryland's rural counties while en route to a ceremony with cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms in his possession. I have facilitated several ceremonies at the Temple that Baba Tehron has attended, so I felt a very personal connection to this matter. Unlike Rabbi Ben, Baba Tehron was held without bond after his arrest.
I wrote this letter to the State's Attorney once I signed on as Tehron's attorney, and later entered this motion to dismiss in the case after a pretty upsetting preliminary hearing in which the court refused to reconsider his release in light of his religious freedom defense. The state held him as long as possible before dropping the single felony charge against him in mid-July. I was able to get him released then, after he'd spent two months in the St. Mary’s County Detention Center. At trial a month later, the state dropped the remaining misdemeanor charges as I had requested. Baba Tehron is now free and, as of November 2022, off parole for the first time in his adult life.
I will add for now only that I learned a lot about institutional racism through this process.
What’s Next: 2023
The fundamentals of our community are strong. We have a small but thriving core practice group, a more extensive online community, and the know-how to start putting together new affinity circles - by region, tradition, identification, etc. We have operated without secrecy, without incidents involving ethical violations or harm of any kind, and without financial support or influence by any outside parties, for nearly two years. We know people value what we're doing: despite our 100% financial aid policy, the average application fee received is still over $400. Despite minimal advertising, our ceremonies have always operated at a small profit. Eight AEP gatherings are already planned for 2023.
The Board took its first official public action on November 11, 2022, declaring our intention to cultivate decriminalized natural medicines in Colorado. Our first in-person event in Colorado is planned for January, 2023.
Education is a major element of our mission. In addition to the “teaching ceremonies” that are an integral part of our in-person gatherings, we’ve held online events including town halls on legal issues, discussion groups for certain sacraments, and an ongoing peer mentorship forum. In October of 2021, we ran the second iteration of a community building practicum, syllabus here, surrounding our midfall ceremony in North Carolina. We intend to return to creating content both for our members and for the public in 2023.
At present, the AEP leadership is exploring raising an “angel” round of donations to hire a professional team to do further fundraising and build out community services. We feel that as we now have a clear sense of who we are and what we do, and security that we can pursue our goals independently if needed, we can begin to collaborate with potential donors without fear of losing our sense of self.