At least two companies in British Columbia, Canada, say they’ve received exemptions from the federal government allowing them to produce and distribute cocaine, heroin, MDMA, or magic mushrooms.
But it’s not clear under what circumstances the companies will be able to sell the drugs, and B.C. Premier David Eby said he was “astonished” to hear the announcement.
On Thursday, Sunshine Earth Labs, a psychedelics manufacturer announced that Health Canada, a federal government agency, is allowing the company to legally produce and distribute the coca leaf and cocaine; MDMA; opium; morphine, heroin and psilocybin, the active ingredient in shrooms. The company said it plans to “bring a safer supply of drugs to the global market.”
Meanwhile, cannabis extractions company Adastra announced it’s now legally allowed to both produce and distribute psilocybin and cocaine.
In a statement to VICE News, Health Canada said Adastra is licensed to produce the drugs for scientific and medical purposes but cannot sell products to the general public.
“They are only permitted for sale to other licence holders who have cocaine listed on their licence, pharmacists, practitioners, hospitals, or the holder of a section 56(1) exemption for research purposes,” the agency said.
Both companies claim they received amendments under Health Canada’s Dealer’s Licenses, which grant manufacturers, doctors, and researchers exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing them to legally possess and make banned drugs.
In a news conference, Eby said the licenses were granted without consultation from the province.
“It is not part of our provincial plan," he said, noting that he would be following up with Health Canada about the announcements. At the end of January, B.C. started a three-year drug decriminalization pilot program that allows people to possess up to 2.5 grams of drugs like cocaine and heroin without fear of arrest.
Adastra said it’s license allows it to “interact with up to 250 grams of cocaine and to import coca leaves to manufacture and synthesize the substance.”
“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,” said chief executive officer Michael Forbes in a news release. The company told VICE News it would not be commenting further.
Sunshine Earth Labs told VICE News it will defer to experts on safe supply to figure out how programs could work.
“We are currently exploring ways to leverage our expertise and global connections to facilitate the efforts of researchers and clinicians who seek to extend the scope of safer supply programs, interventions, and research studies,” the company said.
According to its website, the sale of controlled substances can only take place under certain circumstances, such as to another licensed dealer, pharmacist, doctor, or an individual who has an exemption from Health Canada—like people approved to use shrooms at end-of-life.
Canada already has safe supply programs, through which people with opioid addictions can access pharmaceutical heroin and fentanyl. There are no safe supply programs for cocaine, but activist group the Drug User Liberation Front has repeatedly handed out free cocaine, heroin and meth, as part of safe supply protests in Vancouver.
Since B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016, more than 11,000 people in the province had died of overdoses.
The U.S. does not have any safe supply programs. However, a mental health plan released by New York City in March said it plans to “allow for evaluations of innovative approaches such as prescribed opioids to reduce overdose deaths from a contaminated drug supply.”
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