Drugs

Vancouver Cops Raided Weed Meant For Opioid Users

Meanwhile, the city's overdose rates are skyrocketing.
Sarah Blyth runs an opioid replacement program but police raided it Friday. Photo via Facebook/screenshot via Twitter 

Harm reduction advocates are slamming Vancouver police’s decision to seize cannabis intended for opioid users in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Sarah Blyth, executive of the Overdose Prevention Society, founded the High Hopes Foundation, which gives opioid users free high concentration cannabis as a substitute for opioids.

Blyth said High Hopes Foundation has been operating out of the Downtown Eastside Market —a flea market of sorts where locals can sell their wares—for the last year. But on Friday, police officers showed up and raided the organization’s product.

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“The police came and took everything away. They didn’t really give any details why,” Blyth, who is running for city council, told VICE.

She said police later came back and said providing cannabis isn’t part of the market’s mandate and that the person running the market doesn’t want weed sold there. She also posted videos of the interactions on social media.

In an email statement, the Vancouver Police Department told VICE officers “located a table with a plastic display of mainly cannabis products, marked for sale” and tried unsuccessfully to locate the owners of the product. They then seized the product, “including two plastic bottles of unknown powder.”

“Although our officers tried to identify the owner of the cannabis products being openly sold, no one took responsibility for it,” said VPD spokesman Sgt. Jason Robillard. “This removed the opportunity for our officers to collect enough information from which they could base their next course of action on.” Vancouver police have previously told VICE weed raids are not a priority for them.

Blyth told VICE Downtown Eastside Market organizers do not support the raid. The market has not yet responded to VICE’s request for comment.

Blyth said the cannabis is for people who suffer from long term illnesses, including cancer and fibromyalgia, as well as those with mental health issues such as PTSD.

“It’s introducing people to something that’s a safe alternative. It’s not addictive, it won’t kill anyone.”

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She said the Overdose Prevention Society watches over people as they consume drugs. According to the Georgia Straight, in 2017 the group handled more than 175,000 visits, witnessed 417 overdoses and administered naloxone 397 times but there were no deaths.

A growing number of doctors are pushing for more research into how cannabinoids can treat pain and examine its effectiveness versus opioids.

Alan Bell, a clinical researcher and professor at the University of Toronto who sits on the medical advisory board for Tweed, previously told VICE opioids are not a good option for treating long-term pain because people build up a tolerance to them. He said cannabis can be effective at treating neuropathic pain, and can help reduce the amount of opioids a patient would require.

Blyth told VICE she’s unsure if High Hopes will be able to continue operating out of the Downtown Eastside Market.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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