B.C. company gets approval from Health Canada to make and sell cocaine

Premier David Eby has slammed Health Canada for not consulting with B.C. before granting the Langley company approval to produce cocaine.

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VICTORIA — B.C. Premier David Eby said he’s astonished that the federal Health Department gave the green light to a Langley cannabis company to produce, sell, and distribute cocaine.

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Adastra Holdings, a Langley-based cannabis company, received approval from Health Canada on Feb. 17 to “interact with” up to 250 grams of cocaine and to import coca leaves to manufacture and synthesize the substance. The company’s CEO said in a Feb. 22 press release it will explore the “commercialization” of cocaine to provide a safe supply of the drug.

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That prompted outrage from B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon, who asked the premier in question period: “What on earth is going on here?”

Eby was not in the legislature, appearing in Vancouver for an announcement about mental health and addictions. When asked by a reporter about the approval, Eby slammed Health Canada for not consulting B.C. before granting the company approval to produce cocaine.

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“If Health Canada did in fact do this, they did it, not only without engaging with the province, but without notice to us,” he said. “So we will get answers for British Columbians about this.”

Producing and distributing cocaine is not part of the province’s decriminalization plan, Eby said. On Jan. 30, B.C. became the first place in Canada where adults with up to 2.5 grams of so-called hard drugs — opioids, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy — will not face criminal charges and their drugs will not be seized.

Falcon said he supports decriminalization of simple possession in principle, but the B.C. NDP government has plunged into decriminalization “without the proper guardrails,” which opens up the scenario now playing out with Adastra. The company supplies products to 1,400 cannabis retailers across Canada.

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Michael Forbes, CEO of Adastra, said in a statement the company “will evaluate how the commercialization of (cocaine) fits in with our business model at Adastra in an effort to position ourselves to support the demand for a safe supply of cocaine.”

It was that line in the news release that Falcon seized on in question period.

“Since the NDP decriminalized hard drugs like cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamine, this company’s stock price has doubled. But let’s be really clear here. Cocaine isn’t prescribed. It isn’t safe. This is wrong. Commercializing cocaine as a business opportunity amounts to legalizing cocaine trafficking, full stop. So, why has this Premier allowed for the commercialization of cocaine?”

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The news release says Forbes has experience working in the front lines of addiction medicine as a pharmacist who operates several methadone pharmacies.

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

Forbes, who runs the Forbes Group based in Victoria, has launched more than a dozen medical clinics, including three methadone clinics, five cannabis stores, and was involved in creating procedures for methadone maintenance programs for the B.C. College of Pharmacists.

Adastra, initially received its controlled drug and substances dealer’s licence on Aug. 24, 2022, and in December asked Health Canada for permission to expand its licence to include cocaine.

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Adastra can also possess, produce, sell and distribute up to 1,000 grams of psilocybin and psilocin, also known as magic mushrooms.

Forbes, through a spokesperson, declined to comment. Health Canada did not respond to questions before deadline.

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