Cocaine approved for harm reduction in B.C., not public sale

On February 22, the cannabis company Adastra Holdings based in Langley, B.C. announced it had received federal permission to “legally possess, produce, sell and distribute” cocaine. The company is owned by Michael Forbes of the Forbes Group, who also owns several cannabis companies.

“Harm reduction is a critically important and mainstream topic, and we are staying at the forefront of drug regulations across the board,” said Forbes in a released media statement. “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.”

Consequently, the company received an amended dealer’s license through a Section 56 exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act granted by Health Canada.

Moreover, the same exemption permitted North America’s first supervised consumption site, Insite, to open in Vancouver and also allowed B.C. to decriminalize small amounts of specific illicit drugs for personal use.

Furthermore, Adastra’s amended license permits it to produce up to 250 grams of cocaine per year, as well as to import coca leaves to produce the substance. In addition, it is also allowed to handle up to 1,000 grams of the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin annually.

However, Health Canada clarified in a statement that the license held by Adastra does not permit it to sell or distribute cocaine to the general public. Specifically, it can only supply it to other licensed facilities, hospitals, pharmacists, and research teams which also hold exemptions that include cocaine. In turn, Adastra had also amended its initial statement on its website.

Adastra has already faced some criticism for sharing potentially misleading information, which could be misconstrued as the company being allowed to sell coca leaf, psilocybin, and cocaine to the general public. Since the initial announcement made by the company, its stock price rose sharply from 75 cents on the day of the announcement to $1.60 on the next day.

“Companies are clearly starting to pivot and are indicating they want to profit off of harm reduction and decriminalization,” said B.C. MLA Eleonore Sturko. “We shouldn’t be getting information about harm reduction from companies themselves, it should come from government.”

According to Karen Ward, drug policy advisor for the City of Vancouver, Adastra’s licensing offers a “strong domestic supply option” if B.C. proceeds with creating a safe supply of cocaine in the future. Ward highlighted that so far, federal rules have created difficulties for domestic efforts to expand prescription heroin programs in the Lower Mainland.

“It’s just so degrading to voters,” added Ward. “Just have that adult conversation about our drug policies and what they’ve done, instead of being as reactive as we are being.”

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