Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it was a “misunderstanding” that caused a British Columbia-based company to say Health Canada granted it permission to produce, sell, and distribute cocaine.
Trudeau told reporters in Winnipeg on March 3 that he was “as surprised” as B.C. Premier David Eby when he heard that the company Adastra Holdings Ltd., which produces marijuana for adult use and medical sales out of its headquarters in Langley, B.C., announced on Feb. 22 that it was permitted by Health Canada to “legally possess, produce, sell and distribute” cocaine.
The company said in a news release that it had been granted a Health Canada amendment to its controlled substance dealer’s licence on Feb. 17.
Eby first responded to the company’s statement on March 2, saying he was “astonished” that Health Canada would grant the amendment and that his government would be contacting Health Canada for answers.
“I was as surprised as the premier of British Columbia was to see that company was talking about selling cocaine on the open market or commercializing it,” Trudeau said on March 3.
“There are limited and very restricted permissions for certain pharmaceutical companies to use that substance for research purposes and for very specific narrowly prescribed medical purposes, but it is not a permission to sell it commercially or provide it on an open market.”
The prime minister said his government is actively addressing the issue.
“We are working very quickly with this company to correct their misunderstanding that their press release has caused,” he said, adding that decriminalizing the commercial sale of cocaine “is not something that this government is looking at furthering.”
B.C. decriminalized possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain hard drugs, including cocaine, beginning on Jan. 31 following Health Canada’s approval of three-year experimental decriminalization exemption program back in May 2022.
Federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett has said that B.C.’s decriminalization plan will reduce “the stigma, the fear, and shame that keep people who use drugs silent about their use, or using alone.”
In 2022, B.C. had an average of over six people dying from drug overdoses every day, and over 11,000 people in the province have died from illicit drug overdoses since the provincial government declared a public health emergency in 2016.
Federal Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre has criticized the decriminalization policy, saying the solution to the issue of addiction is “more treatment and recovery,” rather than “more poison.”
Both Trudeau and Justice Minister David Lametti have said Ottawa has no plans for a national drug decriminalization policy.
The Canadian Press and Marnie Cathcart contributed to this report.
(Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)