Psilocybin, or “magic mushroom,” stores are popping up across Canada despite the drug being illegal — a development that closely mirrors what happened with cannabis before its legalization, according to an expert.
Stores with such names as Shroomyz and Fun Guyz have opened in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver and London, Ont., among other locations over the last year. They sell the drug on its own by weight and in different strains, as well as in edibles such as gummies or chocolate.
Psilocybin has a psychedelic effect on those who use it that some claim has therapeutic effects.
Some raids have occurred, such as at a shop in Toronto in November, and in Hamilton and Montreal in July, and arrests have been made. However, like mushrooms growing on fertile ground, more stores appear to be opening than are being closed.
In a statement to Global News on Aug. 31, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) said that when a report is made to them about an illegal dispensary, it is investigated, and “any decision to proceed with charges is based on the findings of that investigation.”
“That said, in terms of priorities, enforcement by TPS is largely focused on the trafficking of illegal drugs that are resulting in overdose deaths, and having a traumatic and devastating impact on our communities,” the Toronto police spokesperson said.
Ottawa-based lawyer Eugene Oscapella, who specializes in drug policy, told Global News that police have discretion over what to pursue and what to leave, and may have more pressing issues to place their resources.
“There are huge issues out there — is going after magic mushroom shops an effective use of police time?” he said.
Some factors may play a role in whether police take action, Oscapella noted, such as whether there are noise complaints, reports of selling to minors, or links between a store and organized crime.
Oscapella witnessed the movement to legalize cannabis and notices some similarities between cannabis then and psilocybin now.
Much like cannabis, the presence of the stores helps normalize psilocybin, Oscapella said, but does depend on the mood of the specific place, he noted.
Like cannabis, it’s possible that bigger cities may be more accepting of magic mushrooms while smaller jurisdictions may be more conservative. Oscapella pointed out that there was a much harder crackdown on cannabis in Thunder Bay, Ont., compared with Ottawa or Vancouver.
Oscapella said the magic mushroom stores beg the question of whether the criminal law is the best way to deal with the drug, and if it appears it may not be, then discussions of a possible regulatory framework naturally follow in order to ensure safety.
He said that while some may be opening dispensaries for commercial reasons, some are drug advocates who hope to push the issue forward and pressure public discussion. It is a similar tactic as was done with cannabis, which saw illegal dispensaries open long before it was legalized in October 2018.
“(Illegal cannabis stores were) helping to push the discussion and may have facilitated the ultimate legalization of cannabis,” Oscapella said. “Maybe the same thing will happen with drugs like psilocybin. There are some parallels there.”