Langley cannabis company’s approval to make cocaine ‘astonishes’ B.C. premier

By Kurtis Doering and Hana Mae Nassar

UPDATE: Adastra has since issued a retraction and clarification. 

A Langley-based cannabis company has caused quite a stir in the B.C. Legislature after it announced it received Health Canada approval to produce and sell cocaine.

The premier says he had no idea this was happening, adding if the federal agency did in fact give the company the green light, it did so without consulting the B.C. government.

In a statement dated Feb. 22, Adastra Holdings Ltd. says Adastra Labs received approval “to include cocaine as a substance that the Company can legally possess, produce, sell and distribute” on Feb. 17.

With the approved amendment to its Controlled Drug and Substances Dealer’s License, the company says it is now allowed to “interact with up to 250 grams of cocaine and to import coca leaves to manufacture and synthesize the substance.”

It goes on to explain that it is planning to support the demand for a safe supply opened up by B.C.’s new drug decriminalization pilot program.

“Harm reduction is a critically important and mainstream topic, and we are staying at the forefront of drug regulations across the board,” Adastra CEO Michael Forbes said. “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.”

But Premier David Eby says he was “astonished” by the 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 not only without engaging with the province but without notice to us. So we will get answers for British Columbians about this. This is not part of our initiative,” he said Thursday.

Despite this, the opposition is taking aim at the provincial government. BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon says the province has effectively commercialized cocaine, and legalized trafficking of the drug.

“Mr. Speaker, Adastra Holdings is a cannabis company that supplies products to 1,400 retailers. Last week, the Langley-based company issued a press release announcing its plans to possess, produce, sell, and distribute cocaine in British Columbia. The release describes Adastra as poised to be a leader in drug development for emerging sectors and at the forefront of the NDP’s decriminalization program. The statement further reveals that Adastra intends to, and I quote, ‘evaluate how the commercialization of cocaine fits within the company’s business model,'” Falcon said during question period Thursday.

“To the premier, what on Earth is going on here?”

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth responded, saying the decriminalization pilot program the province is currently monitoring was the result of collaboration between different levels of government to “deal with the toxic opioid crisis.”

“What the member has been talking about, I would want to ensure that, first off, it has to be done under the guidance of Health Canada. There are criminal code rules around drugs and the amounts that are there. I suspect, hon. Member, that what you’re talking about is probably something that has been put in place under the aegis of Health Canada,” Farnworth said.

“What I can tell you is that no, we would absolutely not be supporting the development and the wholesale distribution and legalization of cocaine in the province of British Columbia. What we have is a policy in place that has been developed through a considerable amount of work with Health Canada, with addiction specialists, with health professionals, and with chiefs of police to ensure that we can have safer supply for those who are addicted. This is not and never has been about legalizing cocaine or encouraging it for commercial distribution, despite whatever the member’s reading from,” the public safety minister added.

Related articles: 

Under B.C.’s decriminalization pilot, adults will not be arrested or charged, and their drugs won’t be seized if they’re found in possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit substances. Those drugs include opioids (including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl), cocaine (including crack and powder cocaine), Methamphetamine, and MDMA.

The province became the first in Canada to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs.

The opposition has long argued the focus should be on treatment and recovery instead.

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