The sale of hallucinogenic magic mushrooms is about to be banned by the Dutch Government in the latest sign of a conservative backlash against Amsterdam‘s relaxed attitude towards sex and drugs.
A series of high-profile deaths and injuries linked to magic mushroom trips has proved too much for ministers, who are expected to discuss prohibition proposals from Ab Klink, the Health Secretary, at a Cabinet meeting today.
The move follows growing official impatience with the unforeseen consequences of traditional Dutch tolerance, which instead of normal-ising drug taking and prostitution has drawn in people-traffickers, dealers and organised crime gangs from across Europe.
Mr Klink’s push for a ban on the mushrooms follows plans by the Mayor of Amsterdam for an upgrade of the city’s infamous red-light district, including the closure of many of its prostitute windows and coffee shops where cannabis is openly sold.
Job Cohen, the mayor, has also proposed a three-day “cooling-off” period between ordering mushrooms and buying them, to put off Amsterdam’s many weekend tourists, but that did not go far enough for Mr Klink.
Fresh mushrooms — as opposed to dried fungi which are already banned — are legally on sale at so-called smart shops, about 40 of which have sprung up in the capital selling all manner of herbal and chemical compounds.
The sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms is illegal in most other countries and the dramatic rethink in the Netherlands has followed a rise in medical emergencies in Amsterdam linked to mushroom use.
Ambulance call-outs rose from 70 in 2005 to 128 last year, with nine out of ten cases involving tourists. Britons were the largest group among them.
In July an 18-year-old from Iceland threw himself out of a hotel window, breaking both his legs.
But what really caught the public imagination was the death of a 17-year-old French girl who jumped from a bridge over one of Amsterdam’s canals to her death in March, apparently under the influence of magic mushrooms.
In May, Mr Klink ordered the national health institute to carry out a fresh study on the risks of mushrooms, following an earlier report that played down the health dangers and led to a continuation of the tolerant approach.
Magic mushrooms are not addictive, but can have severe psychological consequences. Over the past six years mushrooms in dried and fresh form have been banned in Britain, Denmark and Ireland. In Britain, freshly picked magic mushrooms have been classified as Class A drugs for two years. The Drugs Act 2005 brought the law on fresh mushrooms into line with dried specimens. Britain acted after a significant rise in the amount of imported magic mushrooms.
Defenders of the tolerant Dutch approach gave warning yesterday that a ban would leave magic mushroom trading to street dealers. A spokesman for the Amsterdam Drugs Advisory Bureau said: “This is not a mushroom problem, it is a tourist problem. But the ban would hit Dutch users.”
Peter van Dijk, a researcher at the Utrecht-based Trimbos Institute, which studies drug addiction, said: “A mushroom is not very dangerous. It is not as toxic as, for example, heroin or cocaine.” The real danger came from a blend of alcohol, cannabis and mushrooms that led people “to do things they normally would not”, he added.
Joep Oomen, of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, a pressure group calling for the legalisation of drugs, said that a ban would drive the drug culture back underground.
“Prohibition will not stop the sale of hallucinogenics. It will move towards an illegal market and users will be forced to start using things they do not really want with no indication of the dosage and the risks,” he said.
— The Liberty Cap and the Fly Agaric are the most common “magic mushrooms” in Britain
— Among the Koryak people of Siberia the ceremonial use of Fly Agaric involved the shaman ingesting the mushroom, after which others would drink his urine to partake of its effects
— Reindeer in northern Europe are also attracted to the Fly Agaric and Siberian people would slaughter them and get high by eating the meat
— Recently Sienna Miller, while publicising her film Factory Girl, in which she plays Andy Warhol’s drug-addicted muse Edie Sedgwick, admitted being very fond of magic mushrooms – causing outcry among anti-drugs campaigners
Sources: lycaeum.org, Thames Valley Police, treesforlife.org.uk, tv.com
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