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Magic mushroom dealers face new test cases Mark Honigsbaum February 19, 2005 The Guardian
The Crown Prosecution Service is to bring new test cases against magic mushroom dealers despite a court ruling that Home Office regulations governing the sale of the psychedelic fungi are a "fudge" and that prosecutions under the present flawed drug laws are an "abuse of process".
The Guardian has discovered that despite the ruling by the court last December and government moves to tighten the loopholes on magic mushrooms in the new drugs bill before parliament, the CPS is proceeding with prosecutions against retailers and wholesalers in Birmingham, Canterbury and Guildford.
On Thursday, lawyers acting for the owners of a shop in Derby, raided by police last October, told a court they would be writing to the CPS to ask for charges against their clients to be withdrawn on the grounds that the prosecution was "not in the public interest".
Last week police charged Andrew and Karen Bruce, and two of their former employees at Salamander, the shop in Derby, with supplying 25 grams of fresh magic mushrooms to a man identified only as Phil. The Bruces and their employees were also charged with "supplying items which might be used in administering controlled drugs" - a reference to pipes and other paraphernalia.
The case against the Bruces mirrors that being brought against Patrick and Kashi Francis, the owners of a shop in Canterbury, who are jointly charged with possessing 700 grams of magic mushrooms with intent to supply following a raid on their shop in 2003. Kashi Francis is also charged with offering to supply pipes, bongs and other articles seized in the police raid.
The case was due to be heard at Canterbury crown court in December but counsel acting for the Francises, who have pleaded not guilty, argued that the prosecution should be stayed; the case has been postponed until April for pre-trial legal arguments. Similar legal arguments are pending in the cases in Guildford and Birmingham, where the CPS has decided to join a prosecution against a ticketing agency and a magic mushroom wholesaler whose premises were raided in different parts of the city on the same day last July.
Michael J Reed solicitors, who are representing both sets of defendants, described the CPS's decision to link the prosecutions as "odd" since to their knowledge the businesses are unconnected.
Reed, which also represents the Bruces in Derby, argues that the crown's decision to proceed against retailers in provincial cities and towns is absurd given the Gloucester court ruling and the imminent change in the law.
In December, the firm successfully defended two men who had been arrested for selling magic mushrooms at their record shop in Gloucester despite being advised by the Home Office that the trade was legal.
On that occasion, a crown court judge stayed the indictment, ruling that under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act only the "products" of magic mushrooms - psilocin and psilocybin - were controlled and that prosecuting people for dealing in fresh mushrooms was both an abuse of the legal process and their human rights.
Two days after that decision, the government announced it was introducing a new clause to the drugs bill classifying magic mushrooms as a Class A drug alongside heroin and crack cocaine.
"It does seem absurd to continue these prosecutions when the government is seeking to change the law," said Mr Reed. "That is why we are today writing to the CPS to stay the Derby prosecution. If and when the law is changed, the Home Office could then write to retailers warning them that if they continue to sell magic mushrooms they do so at their peril. At the moment such prosecutions are unfair."
The Magic Mushroom Retailers Group, which represents more than 400 outlets in Britain, condemned the new test cases a "waste of police time and taxpayers' money".
However, a CPS spokeswoman pointed out that the Gloucester case had hinged on the issue of refrigeration and whether by "cooling" the mushrooms the Gloucester shop owners had converted them into a drug "product."
In the Derby case, she indicated that the crown would be bringing new evidence, relating to the "weighing and bagging" of the mushrooms before sale. "Just because one particular case has fallen to an abuse of process that does not mean we will not pursue other cases," she said.
Dr Brian Iddon, an organic chemist who sits on the parliamentary committee scrutinising the new bill, said: "As far as I know, magic mushrooms are a mild psychedelic - they do not cause people to jump out of windows. We need much more research before deciding whether or not we should outlaw them."
But Caroline Flint, the Home Office minister spearheading the passage of the drugs bill through parliament, told committee members she had received several letters from MPs whose constituents were concerned both about the mushrooms' "negative effects" and their sale to minors.
"The name 'magic mushrooms' makes them sound quite harmless but they are hallucinogenic," said Ms Flint. "They can trigger psychosis and are very harmful to those with mental illness."