A B.C. cannabis company says it has approval from Health Canada to include cocaine as a substance the company can legally possess, produce, sell and distribute.
Adastra Labs in Langley said it has been granted an amendment to its dealer license to “interact” with up to 250 grams of cocaine (nearly nine ounces), to import coca leaves to manufacture and synthesize the substance. It said it received its approval from Health Canada on Feb. 17.
“Harm reduction is a critically important and mainstream topic, and we are staying at the forefront of drug regulations across the board,” Adastra CEO Michael Forbes said in a release.
“We proactively pursued the amendment to our Dealer’s License to include cocaine back in December 2022.
“We will evaluate how the commercialization of this substance fits in with our business model at Adastra in an effort to position ourselves to support the demand for a safe supply of cocaine.”
Forbes said he has extensive experience working on the front lines of addiction medicine as he was previously a pharmacist at multiple methadone pharmacies. He also piloted a needle exchange program at the direction of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention around a decade ago.
The company said it also is allowed to possess, produce, sell and distribute up to 35 ounces of psilocybin and psilocin.
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On Thursday, Global News asked B.C. Premier David Eby for his thoughts on Health Canada’s decision to make the amendment for the Langley-based lab.
Eby was shocked to hear the news.
“The short answer is that I was astonished by this announcement,” Eby said.
“I understand that this company has indicated Health Canada has given them some kind of authorization. It is not part of our provincial plan. If Heath Canada did in fact do this, they did it not only without engaging with the province, but they did it without notice to us.
“We will get answers for British Columbians about this, this is not part of our initiative, and we’ll make sure British Columbians get the answers they deserve about this.”
BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon spoke about the Health Canada decision on Thursday.
“(Thursday) we had a very important discussion that should worry British Columbians, and that is a company issued a press release about how excited they are for the commercialization of the sale of cocaine in B.C.,” Falcon said during a media availability.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, the decriminalization program that the NDP is rushing head-long into, our comment is that there is effective decriminalization for amounts of 2.5 grams or less, which the police chief told me and I agree. But the guard rails put in place by the federal government were spelled out really clearly, (the BC NDP) has not fulfilled any of the requirements.
“What is going on?”
Adastra was unavailable for an interview Thursday.
Read more: Calls for more action and concerns about service gaps – Okanagan reacts to drug decriminalization
Health Canada did respond to requests for comments around 9 p.m. PT Thursday, in response to Eby’s comments.
“There are very strict rules in place for obtaining and maintaining a Controlled Substances Licence in Canada,” Health Canada said in an email.
“Adastra Labs is licensed by Health Canada for this controlled substance for scientific and medical purposes only.”
Health Canada said the permission to sell will be only allowed to other licence holders, who have cocaine listed on their licence, pharmacists, hospitals, or the holder of a section 56(1) exemption for research purposes.
“Health Canada thoroughly reviews applications to ensure that all the appropriate policies and procedures are in place to maintain public health, safety and security,” Health Canada said.
“Health Canada has contacted the company to reiterate the very narrow parameters of their licence. If the strict requirements are not being followed, Health Canada will not hesitate to take action, which may include revoking the licence.”
On Friday, Adastra Labs retracted its previous statement.
“The Dealer’s Licence issued to Adastra Labs does not permit Adastra Labs to sell coca leaf, psilocybin or cocaine to the general public,” Adasta staff said in a release.
“For cocaine, and under the Dealer’s Licence, Adastra Labs is only permitted to sell to other licensed dealers who have cocaine listed on their licence including pharmacists, practitioners, hospitals, or the holder of a section 56(1) exemption for research purposes under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).
“The company is not currently undertaking any activities with cocaine under the Dealer’s Licence and before doing so, it will only undertake such activities legally permitted by the Dealer’s Licence and after consultation with applicable Provincial Governments.”