SALT LAKE CITY, July 28 (AP)--Leaders of the Native American Church haveasked state investigators to hand over 3,500 peyote buttons seized during aninvestigation.

Nick Stark, who says he is a medicine man in the Oklevueha Earth Walkschapter of the Native American Church, had the buttons before policeconfiscated them July 8.

Stark said that as a spiritual leader, he is entitled to use and share thehallucinogenic plant. However, other Native American Church members claim heis an impostor.

Weber County police and prosecutors, investigating Stark for possible drugdistribution charges, could destroy the peyote if a court rules Stark hadthem illegally.

Indian leaders opposed destroying the peyote, which is eaten and used tobrew a tea during religious ceremonies in the church.

"It is so sacred, so precious to us," said Johnny Blackhorse, president ofA Shii-Be-To chapter of the Native American Church in Salt Lake City. "Wecall it 'Mother Peyote' because that is how we feel about it. If somebodydamages it, it would be like somebody hurting your mother."

Peyote is a hallucinogenic cactus that grows in the limestone soils of theChihuahuan desert in Mexico. For generations, American Indians haveconsidered it integral to traditional religious ceremonies.

Under federal law, use of peyote during ceremonies in traditional AmericanIndian religions is lawful.