Vancouver police raid 3 psilocybin stores, seize 'variety' of controlled substances

Vancouver police say they executed search warrants at three stores that they say have been operating illegally. (Sohrab Sandhu/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver police say they executed search warrants at three stores that they say have been operating illegally. (Sohrab Sandhu/CBC - image credit)

Vancouver police have seized a "variety" of controlled substances in raids at three psilocybin stores authorities say have been operating illegally.

Police say they executed three search warrants at shops in the Marpole, Mount Pleasant and Strathcona neighbourhoods on Wednesday as part of an investigation into illegal sales of psychedelic drugs. Investigators say they believe the substances they seized were being bought and sold in bulk to walk-in customers.

According to Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Steve Addison, significant evidence is required to obtain a search warrant.

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic compound found in mushrooms that the medical community has been studying for its therapeutic use in treating mental health conditions and end-of-life distress.

The drug is prohibited in Canada by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Some exemptions exist in B.C. for people who possess and consume drugs, however, it is illegal to traffic psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs without an exemption from Health Canada.

"We have been clear that anyone who breaks the law by illegally trafficking controlled drugs and substances could be arrested and charged with a criminal offence," Addison said.

"This includes people who traffic drugs for profit from unlicensed and illegal retail businesses."

In a video posted to social media, Dana Larsen, an activist for drug policy reform, said he owns all three shops that were raided. He said his businesses are licensed, but court dates are scheduled to determine the legality of those licences.

"This is pretty surprising," Larsen said in the video. "If you believe in progressive drug policy then this is a real setback for the city of Vancouver."

Larsen opened the first location in 2019, according to the Mushroom Dispensary website.

He said he doesn't intend to give up, and hopes to reopen all three locations soon.

During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Addison said he understands there are people who believe psychedelics should be legal, but said psilocybin is currently illegal and it's the police's job to uphold the law.

"We don't get to pick and choose the laws we follow," Addison said.

Addison said police have been investigating for a "number of months" and at the conclusion of the investigation they could recommend criminal charges.

The investigation predated one into the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), an activist group that has admitted to distributing illegal drugs to substance users deemed at risk of overdosing. Last week, two people were arrested after raids at the DULF offices and two homes. Police say the two investigations are not linked.