OXFORD, Ohio (WKRC) - A psychedelic plant from Africa has bloomed into a controversy involving Miami University officials, according to police and the DEA.
DEA agents were called to the conservatory on Miami’s Hamilton campus back in November 2018. University police had called them after they responded when someone noticed a six-foot shrub and heard it’s hallucinogenic and psychedelic.
The plant is called the iboga tree. It’s grown in Africa and used in coming-of-age rituals.
Cathy Wagner is the president of the American Association of Professors for Miami. She started a petition to get the university to reverse what she calls an unjust decision to terminate three employees. She says conservatory manager Brian Grubbs was forced to resign. The jobs of two tenured professors -- biologist Daniel Gladish and anthropologist John Cinnamon -- are also in jeopardy.
Wagner said, “On our petition, we have hundreds of comments from botanists, scientists all over the country who hold these kinds of plants and haven’t sought licensing for them. Some of them have, but it’s an unclear area. The plant itself isn't listed in the column under Schedule 1 substances. It’s ibogaine."
A DEA spokesman said the plant is legal so there's no investigation. In termination letters, Miami said their actions are in violation of law and university policy; both professors were suspended immediately.
“That’s normally the action that’s taken when someone is a threat. Well. there’s nothing threatening even if they did these things. There's no reason to say you can’t have contact with students, you can’t come to campus. It’s just such a gross overreaction,” said former dean and current Miami law professor Dr. Daniel Hall.
Hall says this is hurting academic freedom and scientific research.
Ernesto Sandoval, manager of the University of California Davis Botanical Conservatory, says the slow-growing tree is finicky and was dying, so the professors were trying to save it by making seeds.
"It's a plant that's not very common in collections, and so it's great that they had it, and, again, it was not being abused; it was not being misused. It was there for educational purposes," said Sandoval.
Miami says the accused faculty will be able to present their case in an impartial manner before a final decision is made. Those hearings are set to take place in September.
The iboga tree has been growing in Hamilton since 2004. Cinnamon admits he didn't declare the seeds when he brought them into the country from Africa. The plant has since been destroyed by police.
For a link to the petition, click here.