Vancouver police seize cannabis meant for opioid addicts, advocate says
Published Saturday, September 15, 2018 6:58PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 15, 2018 10:01PM EDT
Vancouver police have seized cannabis products meant for those addicted to opiates, an overdose prevention advocate says.
According to Sarah Blyth, director of the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS), the cannabis products were seized Friday morning from an open-air market in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
OPS’s High Hopes program operates a table at the market where they distribute cannabis products to help addicts stop using stronger, potentially lethal drugs.
“It's really, really unbelievable that the police are doing this right now and putting people's lives at risk,” Blyth told CTV Vancouver. “It's just completely shocking that they would do that at this time when people are dying in the streets every single day.”
In a cellphone video Blyth posted to Twitter, police can be seen conducting the seizure. Blyth can also be heard explaining the purpose of the products to which a police officer replies, “Marijuana is still illegal, Sarah.”
Vancouver police confirmed the seizure in a tweet, saying that the products were “displayed for sale today at an unmanned table” in the market.
“No one would claim ownership of the products, so they were taken to the #VPD property office for destruction,” police said.
Cannabis will become legal for recreational use on Oct. 17. It is currently legal for medical purposes, but only when sold by licensed producers.
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is widely considered to be ground zero for the ongoing opioid crisis, which claimed nearly 4,000 lives in Canada in 2017 alone.
“It's a life-saving program that helps people get off of some of the harder drugs using cannabis and cannabis is going to be legal soon,” Blyth said of High Hopes. “It's a really great program. It's shown to be successful. There's been studies and research done on it.”
Speaking to CTV Vancouver, University of British Columbia researcher Dr. M-J Milloy said that police should not be seizing cannabis products meant to help people.
"This is like arresting people who are handing out life jackets on a sinking ship," the infectious disease epidemiologist said. "It's a public health crisis in the Downtown Eastside and we should be supporting all public health-based efforts to save the lives of our fellow citizens."
While Milloy notes that Vancouver police “generally (have) a good record” of cooperating with harm reduction initiatives such as High Hopes, the department “owes us an explanation as to why these actions were taken.”
Milloy has even recently conducted a preliminary study that suggested that hard drug users are 55 per cent less likely to report an overdose if they also use cannabis products.
“We know that there is not fentanyl in cannabis,” he said in an interview last month. “But fentanyl has turned up in crystal methamphetamine, it's turned up in cocaine, it's turned up opioids -- really the entire list of drug supply is contaminated by fentanyl.”
According to Blyth, of the 100 people currently in the High Hopes program, 25 have quit heroin while 50 have reduced their consumption of the potentially deadly drug.
It is not clear what the raid means for the future of High Hopes. In the meantime, Blyth said, its participants will surely suffer.
"I don't know what people are going to do," she said. "This is what people rely on to ease their stress and trauma and some of the things that they're having to deal with down here being homeless."
With a report from CTV Vancouver
VPD officers seized cannabis products displayed for sale today at an unmanned table at the market at 62 E. Hastings Street. No one would claim ownership of the products, so they were taken to the #VPD property office for destruction.— Vancouver Police (@VancouverPD) September 14, 2018