Adastra Labs is one of two companies with ties to Vancouver Island that recently announced receiving licences from Health Canada to produce, sell, and distribute cocaine and MDMA.
Its CEO, Michael Forbes, owns a number of companies, including a chain of pharmacies in Greater Victoria.
The other is Victoria-based Sunshine Earth Labs.
But the news came as a surprise to politicians, including B.C. Premier David Eby.
“The short answer is that I was astonished by this announcement. I understand that this company is indicating that Health Canada has given them some kind of authorization. It is not part of our provincial plan. If Health Canada did in fact do this, they did it without, not only without engaging with the province, but without notice to us,” Eby said Thursday while in Vancouver.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he too was surprised by the announcements.
“I was as surprised as the premier of British Columbia was to see that a company was talking about selling cocaine on the open market, or commercializing it,” Trudeau said in Winnipeg Friday morning.
The companies issued releases indicating they could sell cocaine after receiving licenses from Health Canada.
Adastra’s press release said it will evaluate how the commercialization of this substance fits in with its business model to support the demand for a safe supply of cocaine.
On Thursday after the announcement, Adastra’s stock price hit the roof, up almost 75 per cent.
However, the federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett, clarified the licenses issued for both Adastra and Sunshine Earth Labs are for scientific and medical purposes only. They cannot sell to the general public.
Sunshine Earth Labs clarified with its own statement Friday that it will not promote or launch safer supply initiatives.
“It is not a permission to sell it commercially or provide it on an open market. We are working very quickly with this company to correct the misunderstanding that their press release has caused,” Trudeau said.
And Friday afternoon, a retraction from Adastra Labs came.
“The Dealer’s Licence issued to Adastra Labs does not permit Adastra Labs to sell coca leaf, psilocybin or cocaine to the general public,” read their update.
On Friday afternoon, a statement from Health Canada made it clear that the two companies’ authorizations to conduct certain activities with the controlled substances did not relate to recreational use.
The governing body stressed that the approval they possessed was strictly for medical and research purposes, adding that some companies have had access to these substances for those purposes for over 20 years and that this is not a new policy.
Neither company is permitted to sell controlled substances to the general public.
The only permission they have to sell the substance is to other controlled substance license holders, pharmacists, practitioners, hospitals, and holders of a section 56(1) exemption for research purposes.
It’s unclear if the two companies will face further punitive action from Health Canada, but the agency has contacted both companies to “reiterate the very narrow parameters of their licence,” adding that “if the strict requirements are not being followed, Health Canada will not hesitate to take action, which may include revoking the licence.”
Cocaine hydrochloride as a topical solution can be used as a topical anesthesia of the mucous membranes of the oral, laryngeal, and nasal cavities, according to Health Canada.
Medically it can be used for topical numbing for procedures like surgeries, or the temporary treatment of nosebleeds before cauterization, with several products using the drug in combinations currently approved by Health Canada.