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Clarifying the status of fresh magic mushrooms as a controlled drug will, we hope, decrease the trade in a harmful and hallucinogenic drug, that is on a par with LSD.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
Clause 21 makes a reasonable clarification of the law in respect of magic mushrooms. I have learnt more than I ever thought I wanted to about them. Whatever form they are in, they are to be classified as class A drugs. That is sensible. We will wait to see whether that is implemented. Apparently there is a very strong import trade in them. I wonder what will happen to that particular trade.
? the central plank of this Government's drug policy?like that of all those governments before?is completely rotten. It has not worked, it cannot work, and it will not work.
Magic mushrooms have been around since time immemorial, and have varied in popularity since the 1960s. They have a mildly hallucinogenic effect on users?not, as the Minister said, anything equivalent to LSD. That may or may not be desirable, depending on your point of view, and my view is that it is not desirable. What matters, however, is that they are neither physically nor psychologically addictive, cause negligible side effects and, unlike what the Minister said, cause virtually no harm. There is no evidence of harm and there is no evidence of their causing any public order problems. In those circumstances, to make the possession of wild mushrooms; that grow throughout the United Kingdom, do little discernible harm, and are currently legitimately retailed through hundreds of shops and across Europe a criminal offence equivalent to heroin is really the most disproportionate suggestion in a badly thought-out, badly drafted Bill
I am one of those who believe that current prohibition policies are contrary to common sense. I echo the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in this area. I believe that drug usage should be decriminalised and subjected to regulation, quality control and taxation, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco.
The point at issue is to what extent do any government have the right in a free society to interfere in the personal choices of individual citizens and, with the excuse of protecting their health for their own good, to impose criminal sanctions on anyone who disobeys the rules? In their recent White Paper entitled Smoking Kills, the Government state that they are, "determined not to infringe upon people's rights to make free and informed choices". The classification of magic mushrooms as class A drugs would fly in the face of that commitment.
A government have every right and indeed a duty to educate and warn the public of the risks and potential dangers to health of all drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Indeed, the campaign against smoking in recent years is a good example of what can be achieved by publicising potential harm to health. But thereafter a government's concern and use of the criminal justice system should be the prevention of harm to others. Drug or alcohol addiction in itself is a sickness requiring treatment. It should be criminal only when an addict resorts to harming others to sustain his supply.
Magic mushrooms grow wild all over England. Will the owners of farmland, gardens and public parks become criminals for possessing class A drugs? The prospect is absurd. What about other substances that are damaging to health? Sugar and chocolates in excess are harmful. Beef burgers and chips can lead to chronic obesity. Should these substances also be made illegal?
The classification of magic mushrooms as a class A drug will merely force the trade under ground and into the hands of professional criminals and will further increase the burden on the already overstretched criminal justice system. I hope very much that this clause can be dropped from the Bill.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal:
I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold, know full well that Clause 21 clarifies the law on magic mushrooms. It does not necessarily classify magic mushrooms as class A drugs. Noble Lords will be familiar with the debate that has gone on for a long time about dried and fresh magic mushrooms, and why one is bad and the other one is not. That part of the Bill clarifies the position and, if I may respectfully suggest it, makes a little more sense of it than was so before. The Bill makes an important contribution.
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