Long-time cannabis advocate now hoping to get other drugs legalized

Advocates promote substances such as mushrooms and coca leaves

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By Kenneth Wong and Laisa Conde

Stores like Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary, located on East Hastings Street, are openly advertising micro doses of illicit drugs such as magic mushrooms, LSD and coca leaf.

Dana Larsen, director of the Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary, Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, and Get Your Drugs Tested Harm Reduction & Education Centre, is a big advocate for the legalization of drugs as he claims it makes them safer, milder and reduces harm.

“The problem with prohibiting things is you make them more dangerous and more illegal. So, I say if we legalize cocaine, the big money would not be in people snorting cocaine, it’d be in coca base drinks,” Larsen said in an interview with the Voice.

Larsen’s defiance on the use and advertisement of illicit drugs isn’t something new. In 2008, long before cannabis was legalized in Canada, Larsen ran his Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary as an attempt to bring an end to the war on drugs.

“The idea of starting a business that in and of itself, is an act of civil disobedience. And that makes change just by doing what we’re doing. And using those profits to further fund the kind of activism and social change that doesn’t bring in any revenue,” he said.

These substances are illegal, but not a police priority

The Vancouver Police Department acknowledges psilocybin and psilocin, which are hallucinogens found in magic mushrooms and have similar effects as LSD, are “still controlled drugs and substances, which means anyone who traffics it could be arrested and charged.”

Sgt. Steve Addison added that VPD does not see the same level of violence and life-threatening health complications associated with those substances and that police priorities are elsewhere for now.

“Our drug enforcement priority is to investigate and disrupt organized crime groups and violent offenders who manufacture and traffic harmful opioids like heroin and fentanyl,” Addison said.

Aside from cannabis and psychedelic dispensaries, Larsen runs a drug testing site known as ‘Get Your Drugs Tested Harm Reduction & Education Centre’ (GYDT) located at 880 East Hastings St. He said the facility has helped save lives.

“I think we prevented hundreds and hundreds of potential overdoses,” Larsen said. “I think we’ve also created a level of accountability in the local drug supply that was not there before, empowering both users and dealers to go and find out what they’ve actually got what they’re selling, or what they just bought.”

According to Larsen, the establishment is approaching its 50,000th drug test. The results of the drug tests are published online as a way of creating a database.

“We’ve gotten like five [drug testing machines], those things cost 50 grand each, it’s a quarter million dollars you spent just on the infrastructure, and it costs about $1,000 a day to have our staff working there, seven days a week, eight hours a day, operating this, we’re the busiest center in the world, we do over two thirds of all the drug analysis in British Columbia,” he said.

The provincial government also operates drug testing sites. However Larsen describes them as “really limited” as they are only available inside supervised injection sites and are only open for up to four hours a day out of four days of the week.

Heroin isn’t actually heroin, anymore

Larsen’s drug testing operation has found that heroin virtually no longer exists. “When someone who brings them what they think is heroin, very rarely is it actually heroin. Once in a while we see real heroin, but mostly when people bring what they think is heroin, it turns out to be either heroin and fentanyl, or just fentanyl in buffer, right. So, heroin is pretty much gone.”

In addition, GYDT has found that aside from fentanyl, much of the drug supply has been contaminated by other harmful substances such as levamisole, benzodiazepine and xylazine. Benzos, according to Larsen, are almost 100 times stronger than fentanyl and is not affected by naloxone. Naloxone is a drug that can be used to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose.

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