Skip to content

Vancouver's chief licence inspector orders magic mushroom dispensary to close

Sarah Hicks: "If you continue to operate without a valid business licence, you will be subject to further enforcement actions."
The city's chief licence inspector Sarah Hicks has ordered the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway to immediately close its doors.

Vancouver’s chief licence inspector Sarah Hicks has ordered the operators of a magic mushroom dispensary on West Broadway to immediately close their doors or face enforcement.

The order came via a letter April 19 to Valentin Muller, the director of the numbered company that operates the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary at 247 West Broadway, which is located a few blocks from city hall.

“As you do not have a valid business licence, you must immediately cease operating the business at 247 West Broadway and it must remain closed until such time as you have a valid licence,” Hicks wrote.

“If you continue to operate without a valid business licence, you will be subject to further enforcement actions."

The letter was posted Monday night to the X social media platform by Dana Larsen, a director of the Strathcona Tea Society, a non-profit that handles the finances and logistics of the dispensary and two others that operate in the city.

Larsen, a well-known drug legalization advocate, is the dispensary’s spokesperson. He said in his post and in an interview with Glacier Media that the store will not close its doors, despite Hicks’ order.

“The dispensary will of course continue to operate while we hash this out in court over the coming months and years,” he said. “This could end up in the Supreme Court.”

Vancouver’s chief licence inspector Sarah Hicks. Photo Mike Howell

Council to review licence application

In the meantime, Hicks said in her letter that she will not consider the dispensary’s application for a 2024 business licence, choosing instead to have the application go before the 11-member city council.

Hicks didn’t provide a date for that meeting.

The move is interesting and may be unprecedented, since council has a business licence review panel that is comprised of a rotating roster of three councillors. It was that panel in March that voted 2-1 to reinstate the dispensary’s 2023 licence.

But Hicks pointed out in her letter that reinstatement of the 2023 licence did not allow the dispensary to continue operating in 2024, specifically because it was selling illegal substances.

The 2023 licence was granted for the sale of “gifts and novelties.”

Hicks suspended that licence in May 2023 after a city property use inspector reported that illegal drugs, as defined under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, were being sold at the dispensary.

Despite the suspension of the licence, Muller never closed his doors and continued to operate, with his store advertising Tuesday the sale of mushrooms, LSD, peyote, DMT, coca and kratom.

Business licence review panel

A business licence review hearing for the suspended 2023 licence wasn’t held until March 5, 2024.

At that hearing, Green Party councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry led reinstatement of the dispensary’s licence.

The councillors said a licence should be reissued to Muller with terms that clarify the business as “education and advocacy regarding entheogens and medicinal psychoactive substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, LSD and DMT.”

Hicks said in her letter that the 2024 business licence application for the dispensary related to selling retail items such as books, posters, art, gifts, plants and entheogens, which are psychoactive substances.

The rationale provided by Fry and Carr for reinstatement was connected to a previous council’s decision in 2015 to regulate marijuana dispensaries before cannabis was made legal six years later by the federal government.

The councillors then introduced a motion April 10 at city hall to have council consider regulating business licences for retailers of psilocybin, peyote, mescaline, auyahuasca and kratom.

The ABC Vancouver majority shot it down — a fact that Hicks referred to in her letter.

“In my view, the approval of your 2024 business licence application with the terms stipulated by the panel decision would be in direct conflict with the more recent decision by council rejecting such an approach to regulating the sale of psilocybin and entheogens,” she said.

Valentin Muller, lawyer Jack Lloyd and Dana Larsen outside Vancouver city hall in March after the business review panel's decision to reinstate the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary's 2023 licence. Photo Mike Howell

'Some kind of rules in place'

Fry was unaware of Hicks’ letter until informed Tuesday by Glacier Media. He said he didn’t expect the ABC mayor and councillors to change course on their stance regarding the operation of mushroom dispensaries.

“I don’t see an opportunity for success,” said Fry, who has been clear that his efforts are to regulate shops, not legalize drugs.

The panel and council heard in both recent meetings that more than 20 illegal mushroom dispensaries are currently operating in Vancouver.

“When it comes down to the fact that the folks are going to do mushrooms, or they're going to buy them online, or in an alley or what have you, I'd much rather they get them from a reputable, accountable bricks-and-mortar store that has some kind of rules in place,” Fry said.

The dispensary made news in November 2023 after police raided it and two others on East Hastings Street and Granville Street. The panel heard in March that 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.

No charges

Larsen was arrested but said Tuesday he has yet to be charged, and doesn’t believe that will happen.

“Although it's possible for the Crown to still charge me, it seems increasingly unlikely every day that passes — they don't normally wait six months after a raid to delay charges,” he said.

“If this was a priority, they could have come back the next day and raided us again. The other 20-plus shops in the city are doing very similar things to what we do, and none of them have been raided at all, to my knowledge.”

In March, Health Canada sent a letter to Vancouver city manager Paul Mochrie over concerns that Fry and Carr overturned Hicks’ ruling to suspend the business licence of the Broadway dispensary.

“It is important that psilocybin mushrooms are controlled under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act [CDSA],” said the letter obtained by Glacier Media.

“Storefronts selling psilocybin to the general public are not authorized to do so under the CDSA and its regulations. Therefore, such storefronts may be subject to law enforcement action.”

[email protected]