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Green Party councillors overturn licence ban against Vancouver mushroom dispensary

Operator Valentin Muller: "I'm very happy about this decision."
The Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway was the subject of a business licence review Tuesday at city hall, where the operator won his appeal to have his licence reissued.

A Vancouver mushroom dispensary that was raided by police in November 2023 and has continued to flout a city order to close its doors won a significant victory Tuesday at city hall in a controversial decision reached by council’s business licence review panel.

In a 2-1 vote led by Green Party councillors, the panel overturned a ruling of the city’s chief licence inspector Sarah Hicks to suspend the business licence of the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway.

“I'm very happy about this decision,” said Valentin Muller, director of 1394867 BC Ltd., which operates the dispensary. “I think it's a good first step. And I hope that we can work together with the city going forward and find common ground and come up with a proper licensing system for businesses like ours.”

The panel’s decision also went against the recommendation of city lawyer Robert LeBlanc, who warned that the purpose of the hearing was “not to advance advocacy with respect to any safe supply, or sale of psychedelic drugs.”

What happened is Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr, with support from colleague Pete Fry, successfully introduced a motion that has potentially opened the door for more illegal mushroom dispensaries to seek a licence.

Carr’s motion: “That council overturn the decision of the chief licence inspector and that a business licence be reissued to the applicant with terms that clarify the business as education and advocacy regarding entheogens and medicinal psychoactive substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, LSD and DMT.”

'Gifts and novelties'

Muller was before the panel to fight the suspension of a business licence that Hicks suspended in May 2023. Despite the order, Muller never closed his doors and continued to operate, with his store advertising Tuesday the sale of mushrooms, LSD, peyote, DMT, coca and kratom.

The panel heard Muller first applied for a licence as a retailer of “gifts and novelties,” and was granted a business licence Jan. 1, 2023. In March of that year, a city property use inspector visited the business and reported that illegal drugs, as defined under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, were being sold.

Although exemptions exist in British Columbia for people who possess and consume drugs for personal use, it is illegal to traffic psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs unless an exemption from Health Canada has been obtained, for example, for a clinical trial.

Tuesday’s decision allows Muller to continue to operate his business, unless city staff decides to seek a judicial review of the decision. It’s unclear whether the ABC Vancouver-majority council has any recourse to overturn the panel’s decision.

ABC Vancouver Coun. Mike Klassen cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday. After the hearing, Mayor Ken Sim released a statement that condemned the move by the Green councillors.

“We are extremely disappointed in the decision made by councillors Pete Fry and Adriane Carr to use their distinct role at a business licence hearing to engage in activism on matters beyond the jurisdiction of the City of Vancouver and not endorsed by council direction,” Sim said.

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr at city hall Tuesday. Photo Mike Howell

Marijuana model of 2015

In explaining her rationale for her motion, Carr referred to a decision in 2015 by a previous council to regulate marijuana dispensaries before cannabis was made legal six years later by the federal government.

She described that move as proactive, thoughtful and brave.

Carr said the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms, coca, peyote, LSD and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, has a history of use with Indigenous peoples for spiritual and religious reasons.

“It's worldwide,” she said. “Do they cause harm? I would say no — that the history and use has been very well verified.”

In opposing Carr’s motion, Klassen referred to points made by LeBlanc and Hicks that the hearing concerned whether the operator of the dispensary misrepresented the intention of his business when granted a licence.

In November 2023, police executed search warrants at the dispensary and two others on East Hastings Street and Granville Street. The panel heard 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.

“What I have seen here is not only evidence to show that there was non-compliance to the terms of the business licence, but there had been misrepresentation on the part of who had the business licence,” Klassen said. “And that is the straight, clear takeaway for me within the evidence that's been presented.”

He said he understood the evolving debate regarding psychedelics, but was worried about the city “straying outside” federal and provincial laws, adding that “it really puts us in a position of potentially allowing things that could bring harm to people.”


Klassen read the definition of an entheogen — a term used by Carr in her motion — in his closing remarks to make a point about a councillor’s role on the business licence review panel.

“They are psychoactive substances that induce alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition or behaviour for the purposes of engendering spiritual development and so on,” he said.

“I do not feel that I'm qualified under any circumstances to be able to rule on whether those are the types of things that should be put out into the marketplace in a decision in this chamber.”

Fry described the matter before the panel as “a complicated file,” but said he thought Carr’s motion should serve a catalyst for council to introduce a new licensing framework for psychedelics similar to the medical marijuana model pioneered by the city in 2015.

“If we want folks to be safe, we don't need them going to the unaccountable black market buying substances in back alleys,” he said. “Rather, [the drugs should be purchased] from a location that is accountable to the public, that provides waiver forms to its clients, that enforces a strict age limit on who can purchase.”

The panel also heard the dispensary on Broadway has a drug-testing centre set up in an adjacent storefront, which is funded by money made from sales of psychedelics.

Lawyer Jack Lloyd in the council chamber Tuesday, acting on behalf of the operator of the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway. Photo Mike Howell

'Serious lack of access'

Muller was represented by lawyer Jack Lloyd, who pointed out that fewer than 10 Canadians have been granted permission to access psilocybin through the federal government’s special access program.

“So there's a serious lack of access,” said Lloyd, who emphasized the need for more drug alternatives to combat the overdose crisis.

“There's very good research coming from UBC regarding the fact that psilocybin helps people dealing with these addiction issues. And the city has an opportunity here to manage a very difficult situation.”

Lloyd named long-time drug crusader Dana Larsen as a witness in the hearing. Larsen is a director of the Strathcona Tea Society, a non-profit that handles the finances and logistics of the Broadway dispensary and two others raided by police.

Police arrested Larsen in the raids, but he said Tuesday that he has not been charged with any offences related to the three dispensaries. The panel heard the reason the city first investigated the Broadway location was because of a post Larsen made via the X social media platform, advertising its opening.

Outside the council chamber, Larsen echoed Muller’s response to the decision, saying he was pleased with the move by the Green councillors.

“I expect there'll be further discussions on this issue by the whole council now that this has happened and the stage has been set,” he said.

“Ideally, we would like to see a process whereby the many other mushroom dispensaries in the city that never got a business licence and never applied for one, that hopefully there's now a pathway for them to move forward.”

He estimated that up to 20 mushroom dispensaries were operating in Vancouver.

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