Dan Fumano: Psychedelics Still Illegal, Vancouver Police Say

Column: A day after Vancouver councilors decided to reissue the business license of a store selling illegal drugs, police say a valid license doesn’t protect anyone.

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You may have heard this week that Vancouver has legalized over-the-counter sales of LSD and magic mushrooms, but that’s not entirely true.

In fact, despite a move Tuesday by city councilors that some have interpreted as an indication that the city is willing to regulate the psychedelic drug trade, the Vancouver Police Department said the next day that it would soon Criminal charges could be filed against people involved in that business.

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A pair of Vancouver councilors certainly generated significant attention this week by going against a decision by the city’s own legal department and top officials and reinstating the business license of a shop on West Broadway that sells magic mushrooms, LSD, DMT and other psychedelic drugs.

The decision from Tuesday’s business license hearing does not mean that as of Wednesday, Vancouver will have a legal and regulated trade in psychedelic drugs. What it does mean is that the public conversation about psychedelic drugs is likely to continue and expand, including a fuller debate on the topic expected to take place at a Vancouver city council meeting next month.

But the political makeup of the full City Council is quite different than the group of three council members who decided Tuesday to return the revoked business license for 247 West Broadway.

And as VPD spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin stated the next day that the sale of these substances remains illegal and that “the existence of a commercial license does not change this reality or the law.”

In November, VPD officers executed search warrants at several stores, including 247 West Broadway.

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“The evidence obtained during those searches, and throughout the course of this investigation, indicates that multiple criminal offenses were occurring at these for-profit companies,” Visintin said Wednesday. “The results of our investigation and recommendations for criminal charges will soon be forwarded to Crown Counsel.”

dana larsen
Dana Larsen at her medicinal mushroom dispensary on W. Broadway in Vancouver on March 6, 2024. Three councilors voted on March 5 to reissue a business license for the dispensary after police shut it down last November. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The store at 247 West Broadway has been selling various psychoactive drugs since early last year, and they are not ashamed of what they do.

The Broadway store, operated by Dana Larsen, a longtime anti-drug activist and Vancouver businesswoman, had its license suspended last May for “gross misconduct” for selling banned substances and misrepresenting itself on its license application as a seller of “party items” and “news”. .”

The Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway is also far from the only Vancouver retailer openly selling psychedelics. Some estimates say Vancouver has as many as 20 stores openly selling magic mushrooms, a product that has become increasingly common.

On Tuesday, after Vancouver city councilors voted two to one to reissue the Mushroom Dispensary’s business license, Larsen told Postmedia News reporter Cheryl Chan: “We are now the only store in Canada with license to sell entheogens, mushrooms, peyote, LSD and DMT.”

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That’s not really accurate. The wording of what was approved Tuesday did not technically give the store a license to “sell” anything, but it directed staff to reissue the license “with terms that clarify the business such as education and promotion regarding entheogens.” and medicinal psychoactive substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, LSD, and DMT.”

Presumably neither Carr nor his colleague Green Coun. Pete Fry, who also supported reissuing the license, hopes the store will stop selling the products it has been selling for more than a year now that, according to their license, they are in the “education and advocacy” business.

When asked about the business license during an unrelated news conference in Port Moody on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he found the situation “pretty strange.”

“A store was granted a business license, and then that business license was revoked, and now they have been granted a business license again. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“The products they sell are illegal in this country and they risk being raided by the police.”

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When asked about Farnworth’s comments, Carr said, “Well, we’ve done it before in Vancouver.”

Carr compared the situation to 2015, when he was part of Vision’s majority council that adopted Canada’s first framework for regulating cannabis retail, three years before the drug was legalized at the federal level.

The political dimension of this week’s decision is different: Carr and Fry outvoted Mike Klassen on Tuesday, the only ABC councilor in the hearing. The two Green councilors plan to introduce a motion at a future council meeting, likely in April, that would direct city staff to create a system to regulate retail sales of mushrooms, similar to what the council did in 2015.

This time, that direction is unlikely to have the support of the council’s ABC majority, as indicated by Klassen’s comments Tuesday and ABC Mayor Ken Sim’s subsequent public statement criticizing Carr and Fry’s decision.

But what will the mayor and his ABC Council majority do now about Larsen’s drug trafficking operation just a stone’s throw from City Hall?

Zoë Frankcom, Sim’s communications director, said Wednesday that “we are looking at all of our options” and plan to be “very thoughtful” about what happens next.

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On Wednesday, Larsen said the store was busy with customers who said they heard about his City Hall victory.

While he welcomed the decision, he acknowledged that it “does not allow everyone else to apply for a license.”

“It certainly changes the political landscape, but it is not a precedent,” Larsen said. “I don’t know how it will play out.”

– With files from Katie DeRosa

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