UPDATE — March 3, 2023: Adastra Labs has retracted its original statement, clarifying that it is not permitted to sell coca leaf, psilocybin or cocaine to the general public. Its licence only allows it to sell to others who are licensed to possess the substances.
British Columbia Premier David Eby said Thursday that he is “astonished” that Health Canada has granted a cannabis company the right to possess, produce, sell and distribute cocaine.
Adastra Labs in Langley, B.C., said in a statement that Health Canada gave it approval on Feb. 17 for an amendment under its controlled substance dealer’s licence.
Eby told a news conference on Thursday about funding for overdose prevention and mental health that “if Health Canada did, in fact, do this,” the federal agency did so without engaging the B.C. government or notifying the province.
The premier said the province will be contacting Health Canada for answers.
“It is not part of our provincial plan,” he said, referring to the ongoing effort to stem the overdose death rate, with an average of more than six people dying every day in B.C. in 2022.
In a statement to CBC News Thursday night, Health Canada clarified the parameters for granting the licence, saying the company is licensed to sell for scientific and medical purposes only.
“They cannot sell products to the general public,” the federal department said.
Adastra Labs can only sell to other licence holders who have cocaine listed on their licence, namely pharmacists, practitioners, hospitals, or the holder of an exemption for research purposes, Health Canada said.
Decriminalization of up to 2.5 grams of drugs, including cocaine, began in B.C. on Jan. 31, after the federal government approved the decriminalization exemption as one of several steps to combat the crisis.
More than 11,000 people have died from illicit overdoses since British Columbia declared a public health emergency in 2016. Deaths soared as the opioid fentanyl became the dominant illicit drug.
B.C. opposition leader says move is ‘legalizing cocaine trafficking’
Adastra said in the statement the amended licence allows the company to “interact” with up to 250 grams of cocaine and to import coca leaves in order to make and synthesize the substance.
Adastra CEO Michael Forbes said it will evaluate how the commercialization of the substance fits in with its business model in an effort to position itself to support the demand for a safe supply of cocaine.
“Harm reduction is a critically important and mainstream topic, and we are staying at the forefront of drug regulations across the board,” Forbes said. “We proactively pursued the amendment to our Dealer’s License to include cocaine back in December 2022.”
In its statement, Health Canada said it has contacted Adastra Labs to remind the company of 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,” the statement said.
The topic of Adastra’s licence amendment to include cocaine was broached during question period at the B.C. Legislature, where Opposition leader Kevin Falcon criticized the move.
“Cocaine isn’t prescribed, it isn’t safe, and this is wrong,” Falcon said. “Commercializing cocaine as a business opportunity amounts to legalizing cocaine trafficking, full stop.”
Kevin Hollett, a spokesman for the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, said in a written response that the agency knows “very little” about the exemption granted to Adastra.
Hollett said the B.C. safe supply policy released in July 2021 focused on opioids.
“To my knowledge, prescribed safer supply in BC is focused on opioids, so I’m not clear how this might fit in, if it does at all,” he said.