Dutch Declare Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Illegal

The ban on fresh, unprocessed mushrooms in the Netherlands will be enforced by targeting the sellers, the Dutch justice minister says.
The ban on fresh, unprocessed mushrooms in the Netherlands will be enforced by targeting the sellers, the Dutch justice minister says. (By Evert Elzinga -- Associated Press)
By Toby Sterling
Associated Press
Saturday, October 13, 2007

AMSTERDAM, Oct. 12 -- The Netherlands will ban the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms, the government announced Friday, tightening the country's famed liberal drug policies after the suicide of an intoxicated teenager.

Mushrooms "will be outlawed the same way as other drugs," Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin said. "The way we will enforce the ban is through targeting sellers."

Psilocybin, the main active chemical in the mushrooms, has been illegal under international law since 1971. But fresh, unprocessed mushrooms continued to be sold legally in the Netherlands along with herbal medicines in "smartshops," on the theory that it was impossible to determine how much psilocybin any given mushroom contains.

That meant mushrooms were less regulated than marijuana, which is technically illegal but sold openly in small amounts in "coffee shops." Possession of such "hard" drugs as cocaine, LSD and ecstasy is illegal.

The government has cracked down on hard drugs and tightened controls on marijuana. It was expected to do the same with mushrooms after the death of Gaelle Caroff, 17, who jumped from a building in March after eating psychedelic mushrooms. Caroff had suffered from psychological problems.

But the outright ban had not been expected: The government had solicited advice from vendors, advocacy groups and the city of Amsterdam, which benefits financially from drug-related tourism, on how to improve the situation.

Mushroom vendors suggested stricter ID controls to prevent underage buyers and strong warnings against mixing mushrooms with other drugs. Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen had suggested a three-day "cooling off" period between ordering them and using them.

The Justice Ministry decided those measures did not go far enough.

About 500,000 "doses" of packaged mushrooms are sold annually in the Netherlands. According to a study published in January by Amsterdam's health services, the city's emergency services were summoned 148 times to deal with a bad reaction to mushrooms from 2004 to 2006. Of those cases, 134 involved foreigners, with Britons forming the largest group.

Denmark outlawed mushrooms in 2001, Japan in 2002, Britain in 2005 and Ireland in 2006. Selling mushrooms containing psilocybin is illegal in the United States, but the status varies from state to state for spores, homegrown species and wild species.

Murat Kucuksen, whose farm, Procare, supplies about half the psychedelic mushrooms on the Dutch market, predicted that the trade will move underground as a result of the ban. Prices will rise, and dealers will sell dried mushrooms or LSD as a substitute to tourists without offering any guidance, he said.

"So you'll have a rise in incidents, but they won't be recorded as mushroom-related, and the politicians can declare victory," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company