Health Canada approves B.C.'s Adastra Labs to produce and sell cocaine -- but it's not what it seems

Mixed reactions poured in after a Langley, B.C. cannabis company was granted approval to possess and distribute

A B.C. cannabis company has gained approval from Health Canada to lawfully possess, produce, sell and distribute cocaine.

Adastra Labs, based in Langley, B.C., is a leading manufacturer and supplier of innovative ethnobotanical and cannabis science products.

The news comes one month after British Columbia became the first province in Canada to decriminalize personal amounts of cocaine, ecstasy, meth and heroin.

In anticipation of legalization, Adastra applied for and was granted an amended license to interact with up to 250 grams of cocaine and to import coca leaves to manufacture and synthesize the substance.

B.C. Premier David Eby, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to be been caught off guard by Health Canada's approval.

"I was astonished by this announcement," the premier said, going on to say that this was not a part of the provincial plan and that Health Canada made this move without engaging the B.C. government.

Following the remarks made by the premier, Adastra Labs issued a retraction on Friday which reads "The Company is not currently undertaking any activities with cocaine under the Dealer’s License and before doing so, it will only undertake such activities legally permitted by the Dealer’s License and after consultation with applicable Provincial Governments."

The dealer's license that was issued to Adastra does not permit the company to sell coca leaf, psilocybin or cocaine to the general public, but rather, to other licensed dealers who have cocaine listed on their license such as pharmacists, practitioners, hospitals or the holder of a section 56(1) exemption for research purposes under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

Michael Forbes, the CEO of Adastra who has extensive experience working in the front lines of addiction medicine as a pharmacist in his multiple methadone pharmacies, says this is a major step in providing a safe supply as the province faces an unprecedented overdose crisis.

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

Adastra says they 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.

Decriminalization of up to 2.5 grams of drugs began in the province starting Jan.31 in an effort to combat the overdose crisis, which has claimed the lives of over 11,000 British Columbians since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016.