AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – The Dutch government will ban the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said Friday, rolling back one element of the country's permissive drug policy after a series of well-publicized negative incidents.
The decision will go into effect within several months and does not need parliamentary approval, 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 do not bother to prosecute people for possession of small amounts, and it is sold openly in designated cafes.
Possession of "hard" drugs like cocaine, LSD and Ecstasy is illegal. Mushrooms will fall somewhere in the middle.
"We're not talking about a non-prosecution policy, but we'll be targeting sellers" Van der Weegen said.
Psilocybin, the main active chemical in the mushrooms, has been illegal under international law since 1971. However, fresh, unprocessed mushrooms continued to be sold legally in the Netherlands along with herbal medicines in so-called "smart-shops," on the theory that it was impossible to determine how much of the naturally occurring substance any given mushroom contains.
Van der Weegen said that was also the reason the system 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 17-year-old French girl Gaelle Caroff jumped from a building after eating psychedelic mushrooms while on a school visit to Amsterdam in March.
Caroff's parents blamed their daughter's death on hallucinations brought on by the mushrooms, though the teenager had suffered from psychiatric problems in the past. Photographs of her youthful face were splashed across newspapers around the country.
Since Caroff's death other dramatic stories involving mushrooms have been reported in the Dutch press:
— A British tourist, 22, ran amok in a hotel, breaking his window and slicing his hand badly.
— An Icelandic tourist, 19, thought he was being chased and jumped from a balcony, breaking both his legs.
— A Danish tourist, 29, drove his car wildly through a campground, narrowly missing people sleeping in their tents.
"It's a shame, the media really blew this up into a big issue," said Chloe Collette, owner of the FullMoon smart-shop in Amsterdam.
She said all the incidents had involved the use of multiple drugs — against the advice of sellers — but it was the mushrooms that were blamed.
"Used in the right way, there's no problem with mushrooms: the biggest problem is with alcohol, in my opinion."
Most mushrooms sold in Amsterdam are sold to tourists, and the city's liberal drug policies and legalized prostitution are major tourist attractions.
In May, the country's health minister, Ab Klink, undertook a study of the problems and called for suggestions from the industry and Amsterdam's city government.
Mushroom vendors suggested stricter ID controls for 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.
But this week, Health Minister Klink agreed with the country's justice minister that merely tightening controls on the mushrooms did not go far enough.
"As far as we're concerned, this will go into effect as soon as possible," Van der Weegen said.
Murat Kucuksen, whose farm Procare supplies about half the psychedelic mushrooms on the Dutch market, said he stood to lose several million euros invested in setting up his legal growing facilities.
He predicted the trade will move underground, prices will rise, and dealers will sell dried mushrooms or LSD as a substitute, with no guidance for tourists.
"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.