A chain of illegal magic mushroom dispensaries is expanding to London, Ont., in a move that is expected to test the limits of what law enforcement in the city will tolerate.
FunGuyz, one of several stores selling psilocybin products in Ontario, will be the first of its kind in London and harkens back to the days when illegal pot shops first opened.
The franchise, which will be located on Richmond Street, describes itself as a “medical mushroom dispensary.” The company has nine other locations, in Toronto, Barrie, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Wasaga Beach.
“Everyone loves it. Everyone loves us,” said Edgar Gurben, a spokesperson for FunGuyz.
He said to buy a bag of magic mushrooms, psilocybin-infused edibles or capsules filled with hallucinogenic mushroom powder, customers need to sign a waiver and show valid photo ID. Psilocybin is a drug that turns into psilocin, a highly hallucinogenic compound known for its euphoric effects, when ingested.
Psilocybin and psilocin are both classified as Schedule III substances and are illegal to sell or possess in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The owners of FunGuyz say they aren’t particularly concerned about the law.
“When the police do come and raid us, they take the product, and whoever is working there will get a charge. We open back up, we have a good lawyer, and we get our [court] cases dropped,” said Gurben.
London police stopped short of saying they would raid the FunGuyz dispensary when it opens. Spokersperson Sandasha Bough said in a statement that law enforcement resources are prioritized within the context of community safety and harm.
“In London, individuals who illegally possess or traffic in substances that are scheduled in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are dealt with by the London Police Service,” Bough said.
According to the City of London, there is no recourse that can be taken against illegal dispensaries within the confines of bylaw enforcement.
“Business licences must comply with municipal, provincial and federal laws,” said Orest Katolyk, the director of municipal compliance.
It’s clear that despite the law, the company aims to continue operating in all 10 of its locations, with the stated purpose of providing psilocybin for medical use.
“What we’re doing here is we’re giving people access to psilocybin in a clean, safe manner,” said Gurben. “We have clients who use it to overcome addictions or other mental health problems.”
The drug is currently showing promising results in clinical trials and being used to treat mental health disorders such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and substance abuse issues, according to Health Canada.
Still, the regulatory body says evidence is limited, as few trials have been completed.
The continued trend of mushroom dispensaries operating in defiance of the law has left some doctors seeking to prescribe psilocybin frustrated.
“Why do we live in a country right now where the government is only allowing access to this substance in a less safe manner. How does that all line up with the objectives of the substances act, which are health and public safety?” said Nicholas Pope, an Ottawa-based lawyer who is currently part of a large charter challenge to strike down the law that prohibits psilocybin for medical purposes.
Pope also represents doctors seeking Section 56 exemption requests, which would allow them to use psilocybin for patient care.
Pope said he has personally witnessed people walking out of mushroom dispensaries with police officers in sight and no enforcement action taken, which adds insult to injury.
“I don’t have anything against these dispensaries operating. We’re in this situation where it’s de facto allowed for recreation,” said Pope. “It’s technically illegal, but the chances are extraordinarily low that you would get prosecuted.”
He calls it an “absurd and wrong” situation, where patients who could benefit from the drug are unable to while some enjoy it recreationally. Medicinal use of psilocybin involves a number of highly trained specialists from physicians to psychotherapists, which cannot be achieved by personal use, he added.
Regardless of how judges and lawmakers decide to handle the future of psilocybin in Canada, more regulatory attention and care will be necessary, says Jacob Shelley, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and School of Health Studies at Western University.
“We see the playbook has already been kind of played out with cannabis, right? We saw how [illegal cannabis] dispensaries evolved and kind of pushed the government to address and deal with them existing in kind of the space before legalization,” said Shelley.
“We need to invest more regulatory attention to how we’re going to ensure that these products are not being sold to consumers in a way that’s harmful without the proper regulatory kind of oversight.”