This Guy Plans to Open a Store That Sells Heroin, Meth, and Crack

Jerry Martin knows he’ll get arrested if he opens up a store in Vancouver that sells heroin, meth, MDMA, and more. “That’s the whole idea,” he said.
canada-vancouver-store-that-sells-heroin-meth-crack :+1: 1
Jerry Martin, 51, plans to open The Drugs Store in Vancouver, Canada. (Image courtesy of source)

A Vancouver man is planning to open what would be Canada’s first store that sells heroin, cocaine, meth, MDMA, and other drugs as a way to reduce the rising number of deaths stemming from the overdose crisis. 

Jerry Martin, 51, wants to open the brick-and-mortar shop by the end of January, when British Columbia’s new drug decriminalization policy kicks in. The pilot project, which will last three years, will mean it’s no longer illegal to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, crack and powder cocaine, meth, and MDMA. 

Advertisement

Selling those drugs will remain illegal. But Martin, a former cocaine user, believes providing drugs that have been tested for contaminants will save the lives of drug users. 

“I lost my brother a couple of months ago on Hastings. He went down there to score and never made it back home,” Martin said, referring to a street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that’s known as the epicenter of the overdose crisis in Canada. “Everyday I’m not open, more people die. I can’t open fast enough.” 

Martin, who used to run a weed dispensary in Whitewood, Saskatchewan, wants to call the new shop The Drugs Store. He said he’ll keep the costs of the drugs the same as or slightly higher than street prices because he doesn’t want to undercut local dealers, which could potentially be dangerous. He also said he’ll keep a minimal amount of drugs on site to avoid robbery, selling a maximum of 2.5 grams to each person, in line with B.C.’s decriminalization rules. 

“I’ve already got myself some bulletproof vests,” he said, adding that he’ll also have bulletproof glass and security onsite. He said employees may be required to wear masks in order to offer them more anonymity. 

Martin said he’s already got sources for the various drugs, although it took him a year to find a heroin supplier since the opioid has been almost completely replaced by fentanyl. He said he’s still on the fence about whether or not to sell fentanyl, because he wants to help people get off it. He plans to get all the drugs tested at Get Your Drugs Tested, a free service in the Downtown Eastside that uses a machine called an FTIR spectrometer to detect what’s in people’s drugs with a laser. 

Advertisement

“Part of my plan is that when they go to buy something, we’re going to give some education on how to quit,” Martin said. According to his business plan, which VICE News has viewed, he will only sell to people 18 and older. 

“The Drugs Store will provide customers with reliable access to safe tested drugs, harm reduction supplies such as unused sterile needles, pipes, etc., and educational information,” the business plan reads, adding that the store will be located in the Downtown Eastside “where drug use is rampant and where the product is most purchased.” 

“Everyday I’m not open, more people die. I can’t open fast enough.”

Since the B.C. government declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2016, more than 10,000 people have died of a drug overdose. It’s the leading cause of unnatural death in the province. Like in the U.S., the deaths are primarily driven by the synthetic opioid fentanyl. But, as VICE News reported last year, even the fentanyl supply is being contaminated with powerful benzodiazepines and tranquilizers, causing prolonged overdoses, and leaving people more vulnerable to robberies and sexual violence. 

There are clinics in Vancouver that offer prescription heroin and fentanyl to drug users, and activists have been pushing for wider access; one group, the Drug User Liberation Front, has repeatedly had giveaways of heroin, coke, and meth, as a form of protest. With the city’s backing, the group teamed up with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to ask the federal government for an exemption to operate a “buyer’s club” for those drugs, but it was rejected. 

Advertisement

Martin said that providing people with a store to buy drugs from will also leave them less vulnerable to predatory situations—particularly women.  He hopes he can eventually offer a delivery service in addition to the store and plans to call his wider business venture the Safe Supply Project.  

Asked if he’s worried about being arrested, Martin said, “That’s the whole idea.” He and his lawyer Paul Lewin want to launch a constitutional challenge if he gets criminally charged. 

“If Mr. Martin is charged with selling controlled substances, it is his intention to challenge the constitutionality of those laws,” Lewin wrote in a letter intended to allay the concerns of Martin’s potential landlords and business partners. “He would allege that laws that prevent a safe supply and result in death by poisoning contravene section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and must be struck down.” 

Section 7 of the charter states that all Canadians have “the right to life, liberty, and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Section 7 challenges were used to successfully strike down laws prohibiting medical cannabis in Canada. 

Martin’s willingness to risk arrest to provide a safe supply of drugs comes from personal experience. He was introduced to drugs at age 14 and was an alcoholic and injection cocaine user by 15. He then spent 15 years unhoused, bouncing around between Langley, B.C.; Oshawa, Ontario; and a number of other Canadian cities. 

Advertisement

Last year, one of his step-brothers, Gord Rennie, was featured in Beyond Fentanyl, a VICE News Tonight documentary about the rise of drugs like benzo dope, a combination of fentanyl and benzodiazepines. Before the documentary aired, Rennie died of a suspected overdose; he was found under a bridge. 

Martin told VICE News he feels guilty about Rennie’s death, and in part, that’s fueling his desire to open The Drugs Store. 

“My mom had called a day or two before they found him dead to let me know he was out of prison, but I didn’t call him or ask him to stay with me because I was selfish and afraid he’d steal everything because of his addiction,” Martin said. “I should have loved him no matter what and at least gave him a safe place and most importantly a safe supply.” 

Martin said he needs at least $50,000 to $100,000 to start the business—or a minimum of $500,000 if he needs to buy a space, which he’s hoping to avoid doing by renting. He told VICE News he’s planning to launch a crowdfunder to help cover the costs. 

Ideally, Martin would like to rent a storefront in the Downtown Eastside, but said he’s having trouble nailing down a location to lease because his credit rating is poor due to years of court battles tied to his weed dispensary. He’s considering buying a trailer that can operate as a mobile store until he can find a more permanent location.  

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter. 

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.