Magic mushrooms are forced underground by tough new penalties

Magic mushrooms are to be outlawed, with tough penalties for supplying or possessing the hallucinogenic fungi, under laws proposed by the Home Office yesterday.

Magic mushrooms are to be outlawed, with tough penalties for supplying or possessing the hallucinogenic fungi, under laws proposed by the Home Office yesterday.

Drug dealers who swallow their supplies, such as cocaine and heroin, to conceal them from police could also undergo X-rays or ultrasound scans, under the planned measures.

The Home Office published the proposals in its new Drugs Bill, which will clarify the law so that freshly picked magic mushrooms are illegal.

All forms of magic mushrooms will be treated as a class A drug, similar to heroin and cocaine, with maximum jail terms of life imprisonment for supplying, importing and exporting. Possessing them would carry a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

The move comes after a judge refused to allow the prosecution of two men caught selling bags of magic mushrooms from their shop. Recorder Claire Miskin threw out a case against Dennis Mardle and Colin Evans, at Gloucester Crown Court earlier this month, saying that the law was too ambiguous and needed to change.

Confusion in the law surrounds whether magic mushrooms constitute an illegal substance. While a fresh magic mushroom is legal, the hallucinogenic chemicals psilocin and an ester of psilocin contained in the fungi are illegal and treated as a class A drug. However, there are differing interpretations of whether dried mushrooms are against the law.

The Bill proposes amending the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act to cover "fungus (of any kind) which contains psilocin or an ester of psilocin". A Home Office spokeswoman said: "There is a need to clarify the law so that it's completely clear that fresh magic mushrooms as well as dried are illegal, to clamp down on cases where magic mushrooms have been sold openly."

With magic mushrooms now being freely sold and advertised in markets stalls and speciality shops around the country, it is estimated a clampdown on the open sale of magic mushrooms would cause up to £1m in lost trade.

The Bill will also set up a presumption that people caught with more drugs than reasonable for personal use are dealers and so will face tougher sentences. There were expectations that police might be given the power to force suspected drug dealers to undergo x-rays.

Ministers have previously hinted that they would like to see this power introduced. But the Bill stopped short of the proposal. Instead, for X-rays or ultrasounds to take place, a suspect must give consent in writing.

But if a suspect refuses to have a scan, it will count against them in court. Magistrates would be given powers already available to Customs officers to remand suspected swallowers of drug packages in police custody for up to 192 hours.

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