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A smart shop (or smartshop) is a retail establishment that specializes in the sales of psychoactive substances, usually including psychedelics, as well as related literature and paraphernalia. The name derives from the name "smart drugs", a class of drugs and food supplements intended to affect cognitive enhancements which are often on sale in smart shops.
Psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants
Smart shops are best known in practice for selling whatever psychedelics, dissociatives, entactogens and deliriants local law permits. In the Netherlands, which is home to most of the smart shops in Europe, this includes Salvia divinorum, Amanita muscaria, Peyote, San Pedro cactus, Tabernanthe iboga, and various ingredients for Ayahuasca preparations. As of 1 December 2008, magic mushrooms are under stricter control in the Netherlands. Those new controls are quite controversial, because the list of banned mushrooms also contains species that have no psychoactive substances. Magic Mushroom spore prints and grow boxes are still available over the counter in the Netherlands. Psilocybin is not included in the ban and continues to be sold in smart shops nation wide in truffle form.
Education and information
Smart shops have become a natural source of information about the drugs they sell. They commonly provide instruction leaflets similar to the package inserts distributed with prescription drugs, which contain information on contra-indications, side-effects, and the importance of set and setting. In the Netherlands, there is relatively little formal regulation of the smart shop industry, but the natural concentration of expertise about a relatively exotic range of products in combination with the realization that closer public scrutiny and regulation are always lurking in the background have caused the smart shops to organize into an industry association that, among other things, promotes the spread of information about its wares.
The decline of synthetic drugs
Smart shops in the Netherlands have been known in the past to sell synthetic substances that were not (yet) illegal under the Dutch Opium Act. The sale of synthetic drugs not explicitly approved as food, supplements or medicines is illegal in the Netherlands. It is dealt with by the relatively benign machinery of the Warenautoriteit (Commodities Authority) rather than in criminal law, as would be the case with controlled substances. Yet, this has made it effectively impossible to sell them in a formal retail setting, even if their production and possession is entirely legitimate. Smart shops have attempted no further marketing of synthetics since they tried to sell methylone as a "room odorizer" but were ultimately forced to pull it from their shelves in 2004, though it can still be obtained under the counter in some shops.
Paraphernalia and complement products
Smart shops sell many products that can be seen as complement goods to psychoactive drugs, including illegal ones. In the Netherlands, which has no drug paraphernalia laws, this is entirely legal. In particular, the sales of literature about illegal drugs or their manufacture is rarely criticized and protected by a traditional concern for free speech in local law and custom that is more pronounced than in other European nations.
Many of the paraphernalia and complements sold in smart shops reduce, in one way or another, the harm associated with illegal drugs. For instance, reagent kits for testing the purity of ecstasy can be essential now that tablets named ecstasy can in practice contain just about anything, and often do not, in fact, contain MDMA at all. Supplements of vitamins and amino acids have been developed to mitigate specifically the damage of certain illegal drugs. Tryptophan and 5-hydroxy-tryptophan, for instance, can be used to help the body replenish serotonin levels in the brain after the use of MDMA, and vitamin supplements are appropriate for users of stimulants such as amphetamine. Vitamin B12 is depleted by recreational use of nitrous oxide, and is thereby useful.
Smart shops in Dutch law
Legally, smart shops operate under a decision of the Hoge Raad (Supreme Court) that has declared that unprepared mushrooms and cacti are not considered "preparations" of the substances they contain, and are therefore not banned under the Opium Act or international law even if their active ingredients are.
As of December 1 2008, the sale of magic mushrooms was subject to tighter control in the Netherlands.
This legal regime is markedly different from the one that applies to cannabis products. Those are formally illegal under the Opium Act and international law, which after all explicitly bans the plant rather than the cannabinoids in it. Cannabis products such as marijuana and hashish can be sold and possessed only pursuant to a web of executive orders more-or-less silently assented to by parliament. The sale of magic mushrooms, on the other hand, was entirely legal and subject only to the common regulation of foodstuffs by the Warenautoriteit (Commodities Authority).
Smart shops outside the Netherlands
Smart shop is distinguished from head shops found in many countries. Head shops provide only paraphernalia, whereas smart shops usually sell at least some actual drugs. The term head shop is more common in the UK, though many British head shops sold magic mushrooms until July 2005 when the Government introduced a complete ban on magic mushrooms, putting them in the same category as heroin and crack cocaine. Many of the British head shops still sell a range of other legal highs.
In the Republic of Ireland, there has been a recent rise in the number of smart shops within major cities. As with UK based head shops mentioned above, both paraphernalia and "legal highs" are available from these stores, such as Salvia Divinorum and BZP based products designed to simulate illegal drug highs such as those experienced through the use of amphetamine [speed], methamphetamine, and psychedelics [psilocybin]. Magic mushrooms were available until the government closed a loophole, effectively banning the sale of raw or prepared magic mushrooms in January 2006. BZP is now illegal in the Republic of Ireland.
In Portugal the drug laws are very liberal, and several smartshops were opened. A chain store, called Magic Mushroom, emerged as the market leader. Shops in Portugal still sell all type of herbal incense and plant feeders. In March 2013, though, the Portuguese Government enacted a law making it illegal to sell psychoactive drugs, thus ending the smartshop business in the country.
There are some shops from the Netherlands that operate as both a smart shop and a head shop on an international level. Customers are expected to accept the responsibility to inform themselves about the local laws, import and custom regulations before ordering and to certify that the import to their country of the products ordered is legal.