Dutch ban famed hallucinatory mushrooms
By TOBY STERLING, Associated Press Writer
The Dutch government said Friday that it will ban the sale of hallucinatory mushrooms, rolling back one element of the country's permissive drug policy after a series of high-profile negative incidents.
The decision will go into effect within several months and doesn't need parliamentary approval, Justice Ministry spokesman Wim van der Weegen said.
"We intend to forbid the sale of 'magic' mushrooms," he said. "That means shops caught doing so will be closed."
Under the country's famed tolerance policy, marijuana and hashish are technically illegal but police don't bother to prosecute people for possession of small amounts, and they are sold openly in designated cafes.
Possession of "hard" drugs like cocaine and Ecstasy is illegal.
Psilocybin, the main active chemical in the mushrooms, has been illegal under international law since 1971. However, mushrooms that are fresh and unprocessed in any way have continued to be sold legally in the Netherlands, on the theory that it was impossible to determine how much of the naturally occurring substance any given mushroom contains.
Mushrooms will fall somewhere in the middle of the Dutch legality scale.
"We're not talking about a non-prosecution policy, but we'll be targeting sellers," Van der Weegen said.
Van der Weegen said that, in the end, that was also the reason the policy proved unworkable.
"The problem with mushrooms is that their effect is unpredictable. It's impossible to estimate what amount will have what effect."
Calls for a re-evaluation arose after a French 17-year-old, Gaelle Caroff, jumped from a building after eating psychedelic mushrooms while on a school visit to Amsterdam.
Caroff's parents blamed her death on hallucinations brought on by the mushrooms, though the teenager had suffered from psychiatric problems in the past. Her photographs was splashed across newspapers around the country.
Since Caroff's death, other dramatic stories involving mushrooms have been reported in the Dutch press, though mushroom vendors complained that each of the cases involved tourists who were using other drugs and alcohol at the same time — against their usage instructions for mushrooms.
The users include:
• A British tourist, 22, who ran amok in a hotel, breaking his window and slicing his hand badly.
• An Icelandic tourist, 19, who thought he was being chased and jumped from a balcony, breaking both his legs.
• A Danish tourist, 29, who drove his car wildly through a campground, narrowly missing people sleeping in their tents.
Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen had suggested a 3-day "cooling off" period between ordering them and using them. Most mushrooms sold in Amsterdam are sold to tourists, and the city's reputation for liberal drug policies and legalized prostitution are major tourist attractions.