Tears were shed this morning at the DTES Market at 62 East Hastings Street when cops arrived to take away some weed.
That's because this cannabis was being supplied on a nonprofit basis to low-income people in pain.
According to Overdose Prevention Society executive director Sarah Blyth, the cannabis is a substitute for those who don't want to use opioids that may be laced with deadly fentanyl.
"We supply cannabis replacement to people in the Downtown Eastside that are trying to get off other drugs like fentanyl and heroin," Blyth told the Straight by phone. "We would love to have an opiate replacement program at our site but we can’t."
Blyth called the police raid "totally disgusting", noting that this cannabis is being used by people with long-term injuries. Users include seniors in pain and those who can only get around with the help of wheelchairs, but that was not a concern for police.
"People were crying when they left, including myself, because it's really the only thing that we have for folks in the Downtown Eastside," Blyth said. "People are living in alleys. How can we expect them not to have anything? Some people can't just go from opiates to nothing—like, it's impossible!"
Vancouver police have not responded to the Straight's emailed request for an interview.
In its most recent annual report, the Overdose Prevention Society recorded 175,284 visits and dealt with 417 overdoses onsite. Naloxone was administered on 397 occasions, there were 153 calls to 9-1-1, and no deaths.
As a result of its peer interventions, the organization has won awards from Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and B.C. Centre for Substance Abuse, as well as a 2018 Mayor's Achievement Award.
The Overdose Prevention Society isn't the only organization that's looking at the positive effects of cannabis as a substitute for harder drugs.
In July, the New York State Department of Health began allowing registered medical practitioners to "certify patients to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids, provided that the precise underlying condition for which an opioid would otherwise be prescribed is stated on the patient's certification".
A Journal of the American Medical Association–published study revealed a correlation between states with more liberal cannabis laws and a decrease in opioid prescriptions from 2010 to 2015.
Even B.C.'s former health minister, Terry Lake, has suggested that cannabis might help treat opioid addiction.
Last year, the Straight quoted a specialist in complex pain and cannabinoid medicine, Dr. Caroline MacCallum, who spoke of the positive effects of cannabis for people in pain—and how it could help reduce opioid use.
"I’m able to taper patients off of these drugs and get them less constipated, less confused, and feeling better," MacCallum said at the time.
At 1:55 p.m., VPD spokesperson Const. Jason Doucette emailed the following statement in response to the Straight's interview request:
"Just after 10 a.m. today, VPD officers were in the market at 62 East Hastings Street and located a table with a plastic display of mainly cannabis products, marked for sale. Our officers attempted to identify the owner of the products but no one took ownership, including a woman seated near the table.
"The product was seized and tagged at the VPD property office for destruction."