Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
About a year ago, Christina Michael, the founder and CEO of Vancouver-based independent retailer Marigolds Cannabis, started making a plan to approach the Dr. Peter Centre about forming a partnership.
Since 1997, the Dr. Peter Centre has been providing stigma-free care to those living with HIV/AIDS with a broad range of clinical supports, harm reduction initiatives and other support services. In 2002, the centre made headlines by becoming the first health care facility in North America to include supervised consumption in its model of care.
“They were number one on the list of organizations I wanted to approach,” Michael, who opened Marigolds in October 2020, tells The GrowthOp. “I align very well with how they approach their work and advocacy.”
So in August 2020, Michael says she emailed the facility and pitched them a new women-led initiative called Cannabis For Harm Reduction (CFHR). Michael is the CEO, but in this case, the acronym takes on a less traditional meaning: Collective Embodiment Officer.
“We decided we don’t want any chiefs,” Michael says. “And what we embody is our four pillars; inclusion, collaboration, education, and community.”
It wasn’t long until Scott Elliott, the executive director of the Dr. Peter Centre, wrote back. He was interested. “You’re the first person in cannabis to ever approach us,” he told Michael.
The group hit the ground running. Their first public initiative was a winter clothing drive in December. CFHR tapped their network of cannabis industry contacts and asked about the clothing that was stacking up in warehouses across the country.
Vivian Dang, the communications lead at the Dr. Peter Centre, says having access to basic needs like warm clothing is an essential part of harm reduction. “It extends beyond safer substance use, it’s food, medications, housing, access to basic needs like showers and warm clothing, scarves, socks, things like that,” Dang says.
With trade shows on hold, Michael knew there was a surplus of merchandise building up.
“We said ‘We know you’re sitting on a bunch of stuff that you need to get rid of, donate it to us, because we can’t accept any used clothing during COVID, and we need to keep people warm,” Michael says.
Soon enough, trucks of merchandise were on their way. Speaking with The GrowthOp earlier this month, Michael said CFHR had collected more than 8,000 pounds of clothing, including more than 3,000 hoodies from Canopy Growth. In all, the group collected 10,000 new clothing and ancillary items and will bedistributing the items to the Dr. Peter Centre and additional care facilities and organizations across the country.
The next goal for CFHR is to establish a pilot program to improve access to medical cannabis. Michael estimates that the majority of the Dr. Peter Centre participants consume medical cannabis but affordable legal access is a challenge.
CFHR is currently collecting donations to purchase gift cards that can be used at licenced cannabis retailers and medical suppliers. The group will distribute the cards at the Dr. Peter Centre and elsewhere around Canada. Michael hopes the initiative can launch this quarter and help break the reliance on sourcing cannabis from unlicensed suppliers.
“The money just goes back into the industry and we have a cyclical process of being able to provide both regulated medical and recreational cannabis to those who need it directly without them having to spend their own money,” she says.
Eventually, CFHR hopes to be able to supply medical cannabis via biometric machines.
In 2019, Nova Scotia-based Dispension Industries launched its pilot MySafe Project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The machine, which is similar to an ATM, was the world’s first opioid dispensing kiosk and scans a user’s palm to register their identity.
Last August, Dispension announced five more machines were en route to Vancouver, Victoria, Dartmouth, N.S., and London, Ont.