Amsterdam Outlaws Magic Mushrooms

Dutch say no again, this time to hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Oct. 15, 2007 — -- For many years the Netherlands glowed as a beacon in the eyes of travelers eager to indulge in the various vices sanctioned in the city's famed red-light district.

The tolerated sale of marijuana, the legal procurement of prostitutes in red-light districts, and the convenient location of "smartshops" selling fresh hallucinogenic mushrooms all helped lure tourists to Europe's northwestern edge.

But as of next year, those seeking the not-so-holy trinity -- grass, girls and magic mushrooms -- had better look abroad. Under the direction of the country's conservative governing coalition, the nation last week decided to ban the sale of psychedelic mushrooms.

A campaign to outlaw the naturally appearing fungi was spawned earlier in the year following the gruesome death of a French teenager who hurled herself off a bridge while under the effects of mushrooms. The emergence of many other equally horrifying tales since the story's publication in March have helped cultivate support for the ban.

The nation's health minister, Ab Klink, spearheaded the political movement to pursue the ban. Along with Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin, Klink finally secured success Friday. Speaking after the decision, the two ministers emphasized the unpredictable effects resulting from the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

They also justified the law by referring to a rise in the number of reported incidents related to the use of magic mushrooms. The past three years saw a marked increase in medical cases resulting from mushroom use, with 128 cases in 2006, up from just 55 cases in 2005. And there were already 100 cases reported by October of this year, De Volkskrant reported.

Some Opposition to Ban

Despite the horror stories and statistics, many in the Netherlands reacted unfavorably to the ban.

"This is a short-sighted decision," said Lea Bouwmeester, a member of the Dutch parliament and representative of the left-leaning Labor Party, told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.

"A ban will not solve the problems posed by mushrooms," she said.

Many concur. Amsterdam resident and student of international law Emile Beenakker condemned the government's decision for imposing on Dutch society.

"People should take responsibility for themselves," he said.

"It's a question of to what extent should a state intervene in society? I don't think the state should intervene in a case like this," he said.

Critics of the measure also questioned the purpose of banning sales completely when a large percentage of incidents arising from mushroom use occur among tourists.

In an earlier letter made open to the public, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen urged Klink to consider Amsterdam as a special case rather than viewing the issue as a blanket problem across the Netherlands.

Cohen noted that an overwhelming proportion of all problematic cases involved young, international tourists and took place in the country's capital city. In many of these instances, the patient had consumed multiple substances, particularly alcohol and marijuana.

In response, Cohen called for a three day "wait period" in which customers would order and pay for their mushrooms in advance, at which time they would receive information outlining the proper use and effects of the plant before being able to pick up the purchase later.

Cohen's policy sought to eliminate impulse purchases and to educate potential users.

But the new legislation will sink Cohen's plan, and, according to the industry's body, de Vereniging Landelijk Overleg Smartshops, or VLOS, the national association of smartshops, it will also sink those in the business.

"Smartshops outside of [Amsterdam] are now the victims just because a handful of tourists in Amsterdam want to go wild," a spokesperson for VLOS told De Volkskrant.

"Our business is gone," the spokesperson said.

Even so, some tourists in Amsterdam viewed the new law favorably.

On a visit from Montana, journalist Travis Kavulla said he welcomed the change.

"If the government is truly trying to care for the welfare of its citizens and those of visiting countries, then I'm obviously all for it," said Kavulla.

"Besides, perhaps this will finally lead those British louts to rediscover what Amsterdam really has to boast about -- museums, concert halls, galleries."

"It could be a good thing," he said.