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Test case could clarify law on sale of 'magic mushrooms'
THE sale of so-called "magic mushrooms" could be outlawed in Scotland after police arrested the man behind the country?s first ever cannabis cafe for supplying class A drugs.
The prosecution of Paul Stewart, who runs the Purple Haze Cafe in Leith, would be a test case that would establish whether selling the hallucinogenic fungi is a criminal offence.
The mushrooms contain the class A substance psilocybin but grow naturally, and it is not illegal to pick and eat them.
However, preparing the mushrooms in any way - such as making them into a tea as some users do - constitutes a criminal offence.
Anti-drugs campaigners have claimed that cutting the mushrooms from the ground or keeping them in a fridge could constitute preparation, something that would have to be decided by a court.
Scotland Against Drugs said it would watch the case with "great interest", adding that it could open up a "whole new avenue" to mount prosecutions.
Mr Stewart, 37 - whose attempt to open a private club where people could take cannabis in his cafe on Portland Place ended after he was raided by the police on its first night - said he had been charged after selling magic mushrooms to two undercover police officers.
"Drugs squad officers came to the cafe, arrested me and took me to the police station," he said.
"I pointed out that before I sold magic mushrooms I wrote to the Home Office, who employ the police, and they sent me a letter saying as long as it?s not prepared it?s all right.
"I?m facing four charges relating to class A drugs. I?ve been classed alongside crack cocaine and heroin dealers. I?m devastated, I?m really hurt.
"People have been taking magic mushrooms for thousands of years and animals take them. I only sell about ?40 worth of mushrooms every month, I hardly sell any."
Mr Stewart, who complained that other people selling the mushrooms were not being prosecuted, said he now planned to leave Scotland and live in Spain.
The sale of magic mushrooms rocketed after the Home Office issued a letter to Mr Stewart and others saying that it was legal, provided they had not been prepared.
However this guidance has since been "clarified" and attention has been drawn to a case in 1990 when a magic mushroom seller was successfully prosecuted. The court held that as the mushrooms had been picked, packaged and frozen they had become "a product" and therefore something covered by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
In February, a shopkeeper in England who had been selling fresh magic mushrooms was charged by the police with intent to supply class A drugs and is currently awaiting trial.
Magic mushrooms were only taken by a small number of drug users, who would scour forests and secluded glades to find the illicit fungi.
But it is now estimated that there are more than 10,000 regular users after the mushrooms became part of the mainstream drug scene, partly because they became available over the counter at a number of shops and cafes across the country.
A justice source in Scotland said the court in Mr Stewart?s case would have to decide whether the mushrooms had been prepared in any way. "That?s the bit that?s got to be proved in court. Obviously in this case the procurator fiscal feels the evidence is complete," he said.
Alistair Ramsay, of Scotland Against Drugs, has previously called for a strict interpretation of preparation when dealing with magic mushrooms to prevent the commercial sale of a class A substance.
"It?s within the power of the court to make the decision as to whether or not somebody is guilty or innocent of the drugs-related offence," he said.
Lothian and Borders Police declined to comment, saying the matter was sub judice, and no-one from the Crown Office was able to comment.