Pubdate: Sat, 29 Nov 2008
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Reuters


Country Attempting to Shed Its 'Anything-Goes' Image

AMSTERDAM - The Netherlands will ban the sale and cultivation of all
hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms next week, the latest target of a
country seeking to shed its "anything goes" image.

The Dutch government proposed the ban in April, citing the dangerous
behavioural effects of magic mushrooms following the death of a French
teenager who jumped from an Amsterdam bridge in 2007 after consuming
the hallucinogenic fungus.

"The use of magic mushrooms has hallucinogenic effects. It is proven
that this can lead to unpredictable and therefore risky behaviour,"
the Dutch Health Ministry said in a statement.

A challenge to the ban was rejected by a court in the Hague on Friday.
 From Monday, the production or sale of fresh magic mushrooms could
lead to a maximum jail sentence of four years, a spokesman for the
Dutch Justice Ministry said on Friday.

"We are targeting the growers and the shops selling the mushrooms,"
the spokesman said.

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms is psilocybin. Effects last
up to about six hours and can include nausea, vomiting, muscle
weakness and drowsiness in the early stages.

The psychological consequences of psilocybin use include
hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. Panic
reactions and psychosis also may occur, particularly if a user ingests
a large dose.

Some proponents of magic mushrooms say that their use aids in
spiritual awareness, gaining personal insight.

Selling dried magic mushrooms is already illegal in the Netherlands
and carries a maximum jail sentence of eight years, the justice
ministry spokesman said, but starting Monday, a new ban will apply to
fresh mushrooms which have been previously sold in so-called "smart

Staff in the stores, which stock mushrooms or "paddos" ranging from
Thai to Hawaiian varieties for about $20 US a pack, said the ban will
put users at greater risk.

"People will just go picking in the forest, and that can be dangerous.
Or they will go to street dealers, and get mixed up with hard drugs,"
said David Henriks from the Tatanka shop.

Posters in shops outlined the effects of different types of mushrooms,
such as strong visual experiences or feelings described as "body
highs." They also suggested dos and don'ts of consumption, and rated
the mushrooms for their intensity.

"It's always safer to have the information before taking drugs," said
Roy Williams of the Innerspace shop, adding that in the past few
weeks, people had increasingly been buying "grow-your-own" mushroom
kits in the lead-up to the ban.

The Dutch association of smart shops (VLOS) had tried to reassure
authorities by promising tighter self-regulation and noted that most
mushroom-related incidents involved young tourists mixing mushrooms
with alcohol and cannabis.

On Friday, the VLOS said it was highly disappointed with the court's
decision to reject the challenge to the ban.

"Under this government we have had a whole series of bans, and people
have had enough of this," said Paul van Oyen from the VLOS, adding
that he would advise the board of the association to launch an appeal.

He said some of the 180 or so smart shops in the Netherlands would
likely have to close because of falling turnover, and he expected to
see a huge discount sale over the weekend as shops tried to get rid of

Figures from the Amsterdam emergency services show there were 55
call-outs for mushroom-related incidents in 2004, a figure which had
more than doubled by 2006 to 128, with the majority of youngsters
involved coming from Britain.

In recent years the Netherlands has dropped some previously tolerant
policies and has tightened laws on drug use and prostitution.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake