B.C. premier ‘astonished’ firm got Health Canada approval to make and sell cocaine

B.C. premier 'astonished' firm got Health Canada approval to make and sell cocaine
Martin Steward holds cocaine he received from the Drug User Liberation Front, which was handing out a safe supply of illicit drugs in the Downtown Eastside to mark the five-year anniversary of British Columbia declaring a public health emergency in the overdose crisis, in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Health Canada has granted a British Columbia cannabis company the right to possess, produce, sell and distribute cocaine.

British Columbia¬†Premier¬†David Eby says 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 news release 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.

Health Canada has not responded to requests for comment.

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.

Adastra said in the statement the amended licence allows the company¬†to¬†‚Äúinteract‚ÄĚ 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.

‚ÄúHarm reduction is a critically important¬†and¬†mainstream topic,¬†and¬†we are staying at the forefront of drug regulations across the board,‚ÄĚ Forbes said. ‚ÄúWe proactively pursued the amendment¬†to¬†our Dealer‚Äôs License¬†to¬†include¬†cocaine¬†back in December 2022.”

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‚Äôm not clear how this might fit in, if it does at all,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2023. 

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