Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Quasi-Legal (or Quasi-Illegal) British Mushrooms
Vice Squad has noted before (here and here) the odd legal position of 'magic' mushrooms in Great Britain. They are legal to possess, to grow, and (less certainly) to sell as long as they are not 'prepared'. Why? The reasoning is that they are 'natural', so possession or consumption alone can't be illegal. But any 'preparation' might convert a mushroom seller into a supplier of a class A drug, for which life imprisonment is a possibility. (Perhaps this is why the mushrooms are magic -- they lead the law to hallucinate.) So now there are lives at stake with respect to precisely what it means to 'prepare' the mushrooms. If any packaging or weighing or cultivation is deemed to be preparation, then the mushrooms will effectively be illegal.
There are apparently some 400 shops selling magic mushrooms openly in Britain -- but now some sellers are being arrested. Today's Guardian has the story. Has the law changed? Not the written law, but police behavior, in some parts of Britain, seems to be hardening. The whole situation is in a muddle. Customs and Excise declared that mushroom sales were subject to the value-added tax, but had to back away from that determination when the police were trying to make some of these sales illegal. (Vice Squad has mentioned before the possibility that taxing an illegal good can pave the way to its legalization.) One Labour MP, quoted in the Guardian article, sums up the situation this way:
"It's crazy: if you pick them, that's legal; if you keep them overnight, that's illegal because they dry out. The effect of magic mushrooms is minor compared with other drugs. There is a market for them and it would be better to allow it to operate. There are plenty of medicinal drugs that cause far more damage than magic mushrooms. But there are no signs of any intelligence in drug policy from the government. When they say the word 'drugs', you can be sure that the word 'tough' won't be far behind."