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Reissuing business licence to Vancouver mushroom dispensary 'rather bizarre,' says minister

Mike Farnworth: "The products they're selling are illegal in this country, and they are leaving themselves open to be raided by the police."
The Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway in Vancouver has been openly selling psilocybin mushrooms and other illegal substances since it acquired a business licence for “gifts and novelties” in January 2023.

B.C. Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth made it clear Wednesday that he wasn’t happy with the decision of two Vancouver Green Party councillors to reissue a licence to a business openly selling psilocybin mushrooms and other illegal substances.

Farnworth was reacting to the 2-1 vote Tuesday at city hall, where councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry overturned a business licence suspension for the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me,” Farnworth told reporters. “The products they’re selling are illegal in this country, and they are leaving themselves open to be raided by the police. It just makes no sense.”

Farnworth also described the decision as “rather bizarre,” noting the store’s business licence was revoked “and now they’ve been given a business licence again.” The minister spoke to reporters at an unrelated news conference in Port Moody, and didn’t provide further comment.

But in a later emailed statement to Glacier Media, Farnworth reiterated that psilocybin is a controlled substance under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

“Any business selling illegal products should be denied a business licence and not allowed to operate,” he said.

“I know the police takes enforcement actions on illegal substances in businesses seriously, however, questions on enforcement actions should be directed to the VPD.”

Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary director Valentin Muller, lawyer Jack Lloyd and Dana Larsen outside city hall Tuesday after decision of business licence review panel. Photo Mike Howell

27 kilos of psilocybin

The dispensary in question, which is located a short walk from city hall, was one of three Vancouver police raided Nov. 1, 2023. Police seized a total of 27 kilograms of psilocybin, 2.2 kilograms of coca leaf, 2.7 kilograms of LSD and one kilogram of DMT.

So far, no charges have been laid and the dispensary on West Broadway has continued to operate since it opened in January 2023. The city’s chief licence inspector Sarah Hicks ordered the store’s business licence be suspended in May 2023.

In the council chamber Tuesday, Carr and Fry went against Hick’s recommendation to uphold the suspension, which she based on evidence the business was using a licence for “gifts and novelties” to sell illegal substances.

The councillors also rejected the advice of city lawyer Robert LeBlanc, who said the purpose of the hearing concerned the licence and was “not to advance advocacy with respect to any safe supply, or sale of psychedelic drugs.”

Added LeBlanc: “And under the circumstances, this panel can in no way authorize the sale of such products in contravention of federal legislation [and] provincial legislation in terms of granting a licence authorizing the sale of those products.”

'Smart regulation over politics, prohibition'

The councillors are now facing heavy criticism not only from Farnworth but from the ABC Vancouver majority. Mayor Ken Sim issued a statement condemning the move and Coun. Mike Klassen, who was the lone ABCer on council’s business licence review panel Tuesday, said he was worried about the consequences of the decision.

“The bigger issue is that it potentially creates an opening for others who do not want to comply with our business licence requirements in our city,” Klassen told Glacier Media after the vote.

“Thanks to councillors Fry and Carr, we’re essentially creating an opening for these to open almost anywhere.”

The criticism is expected to continue with Fry telling Glacier Media Tuesday that he planned to introduce a motion at a future council meeting — possibly next week — to create a regulatory framework for mushroom dispensaries.

In a later post on the X social media platform, Fry wrote: “Let’s have the debate and let the public know where ABC stand. There are dozens of mushroom shops in YVR providing safe supply to willing consumers. We saw this pattern in 2015 with cannabis and where City of Vancouver prioritized harm reduction and smart regulation over politics and prohibition.”

'Threat of further action'

The Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary is operated by 1394867 BC Ltd., whose sole director is Valentin Muller. Lawyer Jack Lloyd acted on behalf of Muller at the business licence review hearing.

Dana Larsen also spoke at the hearing, acting as a spokesperson for Muller.

Larsen said he is a director of the Strathcona Tea Company, a non-profit which handles the finances and logistics of the dispensary and two others on East Hastings Street and Granville Street.

“We're very happy with how the decision went,” Larsen said after the vote. “And it's not a final thing, but it sets the stage for more conversations and more discussions at city council. It certainly takes the pressure off us immediately in terms of being under threat of further action.”

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