Lower Mainland raids won't deter Okanagan mushroom dispensary

Psilocybin mushrooms, aka Magic Mushrooms.
Psilocybin mushrooms, aka Magic Mushrooms.

Kelowna's downtown psilocybin mushroom dispensary isn't dissuaded by police raids at similar stores in Vancouver.

Benny Dornan is betting a model that has a long history with cannabis in BC prior to legalization will still be observed for his compassion club, Essence Kelowna.

"You join the society, or the club, and now you have safe access to the medicine," he said.

Business began to pick up last month with a variety of new people coming in, curious about psilocybin. Similar to cannabis before legalization, some users report positive outcomes for various ailments and see it as medicine, not a recreational psychedelic. He's taking all the risk to provide it.

Just as customers were leaving on an October Saturday morning, he saw a Kelowna RCMP officer and expected police were about to drop in.

"I thought maybe the police did decide to come. I looked out my window and saw the cruiser with lights on," he said. "I walked downstairs and went out. He was more worried about giving our customers that just bought mushrooms a ticket for parking in the handicap spot."

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Vancouver police raided three stores last week, following an earlier raid on a Downtown Eastside dispensary selling tested cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The three Nov. 1 search warrants, however, targeted psychedelic drugs instead.

"Although exemptions exist in British Columbia for people who possess and consume drugs for personal use, it is illegal to traffic psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs unless an exemption from Health Canada has been obtained, for example, for a clinical trial," Vancouver Police Department said in a news release.

Dornan said those stores ran a riskier model, selling other psychedelics like LSD and ketamine, while he plans to stay away from other drugs and focus on mushrooms.

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"I'm hoping they leave us alone because they've been through all this before with cannabis, and they see where it's going," he said.

Essence Wellness isn't the only psilocybin dispensary in the Okanagan. Mushrooms can be found on many First Nation reserves in the area, often partnered with cannabis stores.

iNFOnews.ca last month visited a South Thompson cannabis store that also sells mushroom products, but the owner refused an interview.

The owner, like Dornan, said the store often sells psilocybin products to people looking for alternative health treatments. They admit that there are customers who use the mushrooms recreationally, but focus their sales pitch on purported medicinal benefits.

Those who use the mushrooms are likely already aware of how easily it can be ordered online, but Dornan said the Kelowna storefront gives him a space to teach customers about what the mushrooms can be used for beyond recreation.

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"I think we really are coming out of the dark ages with psychedelics," Dornan said.

He boasts an almost entirely local supply, sourcing from BC growers, mostly in the Okanagan. Although there are licensed growers in the region that use psilocybin for research purposes, Dornan said his suppliers operate without those licenses.

"They care about making a quality product that is competitive," Dornan said of his suppliers. "Obviously they don't want to put out something that's going to be harmful to people or it's going to be a poor product, because they want to sell it."

iNFOnews.ca reached out to BC RCMP to ask whether police are aware of dispensaries in the region and if enforcement for psilocybin is a priority for the Southeast District. Spokesperson Cpl. James Grandy did not respond.

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