Article by Neil Magnuson, Twelve High Chicks
As a society we now know that prohibiting drugs carries a host of unintended and undesirable consequences. These include an increase in demand, a guaranteed unregulated underground market, and great disrespect for police and laws. But the most glaring example of the failure of prohibition is the current opioid overdose crisis.
What’s the Problem?
This crisis, recently declared a public health emergency in the USA, has also killed many thousands of people in Canada over the past two years — mostly due to street opioids being adulterated with fentanyl. Here in British Columbia there have been over 1000 overdose deaths already this year. Politicians, health care professionals, and society in general are trying to find solutions.
I am a rights activist working to achieve actual freedom, with ending the prohibition on cannabis as my lead issue. My experience had led me to understand that cannabis can be an effective substitute for many people using opioids and other street drugs. And there are now numerous studies that show the same thing.
Cannabis Can Help
It was in 2004 that I operated what was Vancouver’s second dispensary after the B.C. Compassion Club. The dispensary was on Hastings St just west of Main St — or, as it’s sometimes referred to in the area, Wasting and Pain. We used a recreational model where adults could purchase cannabis after completing our “drug war history walking tour.”
We were surprised that, before long, the majority of our customers were people from the Downtown Eastside (DTES), many of whom were addicted to opioids and other harsh street drugs. They would thank us and tell us everyday how cannabis was helping them. And in many cases, especially with strong edibles, cannabis was an effective substitute, a safe alternative, and a wonderful harm reduction tool.
Cannabis Substitution Project
So, knowing that cannabis substitution is an important way to help with the crisis, I set about trying to make it happen. My target area was the Downtown Eastside. There a large, well-documented population struggling with issues of poverty, mental illness, and addiction lives. They have been scapegoats to justify drug prohibition for decades. In reality they are, in most cases, people who have suffered multiple traumas beginning in childhood, and have a difficult time functioning in workplace and social settings as a result. They are visible evidence of the harms of prohibition at the hands of street dealers and the police.
Thankfully there is an organization that gives a voice to these oppressed and stigmatized people, called VANDU(Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users). I went to them first.
My idea was to give away cannabis to those who would use it, and to get the City of Vancouver to approve it and fund it. I received unanimous approval from the board at VANDU to move forward. So I presented my plan to Vancouver City Council in November 2016. However, they had no response. After lobbying them for another two months with the same results, we decided to just go ahead and start the Cannabis Substitution Project (CSP) with the help of a few dispensaries and caring members of the cannabis community.