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Psilocybin Stores Open in Vancouver, Challenge Laws Following Decriminalization

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Psilocybin seems to be one of the next, major substance shifts seeing a loosening of legislation and a greater, general acceptance, especially in specific areas of North American, which have decriminalized the substance and began looking into its therapeutic benefits. However, even though it is still illegal to sell psychedelic mushrooms in Canada, a VICE World News report reveals a number of mushroom dispensaries have popped up in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

It echoes the city’s history of unregulated cannabis dispensaries, which popped up after the country decriminalized cannabis, and the idle period before the country moved forward to legalize it. Vancouver’s city council unanimously voted to decriminalize all drugs, including psilocybin, in November 2020.

Dana Larsen, owner of Coca Leaf Cafe & Mushroom Dispensary and cannabis activist, told VICE, “We’re sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There’s nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here.” He runs one of these mushroom dispensaries, and expects the number of psilocybin shops to increase over time. “Within a few years there’s going to be hundreds of mushroom and psychedelic dispensaries across Canada.”

And a recent poll shows the vast majority of Canadians support the legalization of psilocybin, for therapeutic reasons. The survey was release by the Canadian Psychedelic Association and found that 82 percent of Canadians approved of the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy for people suffering from an end-of-life illness, and 78 percent would support the legalization of psilocybin-assisted therapy to improve the quality of life for these patients. 

At Larsen’s dispensary, the rules for purchase generally mirror public opinion, with microdose options of psilocybin available to any adult, though those wanting a larger dose from the dispensary need to present documentation that shows they have a medical condition that benefits from psilocybin treatment.

The benefits of psilocybin, and how it can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions, seem to only be expanding. Researchers can dive further into psilocybin research than ever before, now that a handful of areas, in addition to Vancouver, are beginning to loosen the legislative hold surrounding the substance. 

In the United States, Oregon became the first state to both decriminalize psilocybin and legalize it for therapeutic use. Denver, CO decriminalized psilocybin back in May 2019; Oakland and Santa Cruz, CA, Washington DC, Somerville, MA and Cambridge, MA have all since decriminalized psilocybin as well.

VICE notes Larsen’s dispensary sells products that embrace the grey area of the law and loopholes in legislation. For example, they can sell LSD analogues because their molecular makeup is slightly different from the drugs on Canada’s list of controlled substances, making it technically legal, even though it produces the same effects.

“I’m pretty good at finding that grey area where you can expand things but take a little risk, but maybe not get arrested,” Larsen told VICE. “And even if that happened, a judge being like, ‘Yeah, Dana deserves to go to jail for a long time because he’s selling people coca tea and a gram or two of psychedelic mushrooms,’ it’s just not going to happen.”

Is Psilocybin Legal in Vancouver?

Canada hasn’t changed their legal status of mushrooms, but the government has notably handed out a number of exemptions, allowing people near the end of their lives to use the drug, along with granting health practitioners permission to receive training in guiding patients through a therapeutic trip.

While a dispensary like Larsen’s has the potential to get busted, Toronto-based lawyer Paul Lewin said it could result in a challenge against the prohibition of shrooms, which he said he feels confident lawyers could win. He also notes the Canadian government is falling into the same, troublesome process they did with cannabis, which came with decades of court challenges before the country finally carried forward with legalization.

A Health Canada spokesperson told Benzinga in May that “development of a medical psilocybin program is not being considered at this time.” However, clinical trials could ultimately pave the path for full legalization of psilocybin for medical reasons, in a similar way that other pharmaceutical drugs are regulated.

With pushes like Larsen’s dispensary, or Oregon’s progressive move forward to launch a legal psilocybin program—which will ultimately result in “service centers” as soon as January 2023—it’s hard to deny that momentum for psilocybin legalization and regulation has nowhere to go but forward, in Canada and beyond.

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