Police raid of marijuana stand targeted those struggling with substance use: advocate

Sarah Blyth said a Friday raid in the Downtown Eastside was unnecessary, but police disagree

An online video showing Vancouver police seizing marijuana from an overdose prevention site is raising eyebrows of advocates and medical experts alike, spiking conversation on the policing of certain drugs.

Friday’s seizure, caught on camera by Overdose Prevention Society founder Sarah Blyth, involved a table display of cannabis products marked for sale near a pop-up supervised consumption site in the Downtown Eastside.

In the video, Blyth – who’s running for council in Vancouver – is heard yelling that the seizure is a personal vendetta against those suffering from substance abuse.

“Good for you guys taking opiate replacement for people,” she says.

A police officer is then heard reminding her that marijuana is still illegal, until Oct. 17.

Vancouver Police Const. Jason Doucette told Black Press Media Friday afternoon that they were left with little choice after no one came forward as owner of the pot.

According to Blyth, the cannabis table is part of a full-time harm-reduction program called High Hopes, which has helped hundreds of people move away from opioid use since it opened in August 2017.

“We give people something that we know is not going to kill them as an alternative to harder drugs,” she told Black Press Media.

While Canadian laws currently only allow dispensaries licensed for medicinal purposes to operate, Blyth said police know that the program exists, calling the seizure a step back in time by at least 100 years.

“It should not be a criminal issue, we need to move past that. We need to move to a place where drug users are not criminalized,” she said.

The Downtown Eastside has seen the brunt of the overdose crisis since being declared a public health emergency in 2016. More than 878 people have died from illicit drug overdoses this year in B.C. – 231 of those deaths in Vancouver alone.

“It’s a bit shocking that we’re the lowest-barrier program in a neighbourhood where people are living homeless in extreme poverty, are heavily policed all day long and living in terrible conditions with mental health issues – and that they would target that group of people,” she said.

Many were quick to question the move by police – including former health minister Terry Lake who held his position during the worst year of overdose deaths in B.C.’s history.

“What possible reason would they have to do this???,” Lake tweeted.

“Sorry did you send this tweet from 1987? This is insane,” Vancouver-based addiction physician Dr. Keith Ahamad said.

In a statement online, the B.C. Centre on Substance Use said the move makes little sense.

“Research has shown that cannabis holds promise in reducing cravings for opioids. In the middle of public health emergency, we should support interventions that could help reduce overdose and keep people alive,” it said.

“That’s on top of the harms we know that are created by criminalizing drug use. Overdose prevention sites need to be barrier-free and safe spaces for drug users.”

However, Doucette noted that selling cannabis in a street market will continue to be illegal after cannabis is decriminalized in October.

“The cannabis (still an illegal substance) was in plain view at the market and was seized for destruction,” he told Black Press in an email. “Although our officers tried to identify the owner of the cannabis products being openly sold, no one took responsibility for it. This removed the opportunity for our officers to collect enough information from which they could base their next course of action on.”

Doucette said officers have seen this type of trafficking on cannabis in other parts of Vancouver and have taken enforcement action after informal attempts to resolve the issues were not successful.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Vancouver Island pharmacist suspended for giving drugs with human placenta

RCMP had samples of the seized substances tested by Health Canada

Getting along and information flow essentials for Area G director candidate

Jonas feels working productively together makes a better community

Bayview Place pullout a magnet for trouble, Maple Bay neighbours say

North Cowichan council forwards concerns to police

AFN national chief suggests moving Trans Mountain pipeline route

Perry Bellegarde said many Indigenous communities believe in the need to diversify export markets

Sister of plane crash victim that went missing in B.C. starting support network

Tammy Neron wants to help families who are searching for missing people

‘Hello, 911? There’s a horse in my living room’

Sproat Lake firefighters called to ‘rescue’ quarter-horse from Alberni Valley house

Assault charge withdrawn vs. ex-Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna

Former Toronto player agrees to peace bond

UPDATED: Bill Cosby gets 3-10 years in prison for sexual assault

Judge also declared the disgraced comedian a ‘sexually violent predator’

B.C. making progress on senior care staffing, Adrian Dix says

Minister aims to meet residential care provincial standard by 2021

B.C. realtor receives racist letter touching on ‘empty homes’

The letter has been met with condemnation of the racism after Winnie Wu posted it online

Motorcyclist dead following crash on Vancouver Island

Victim was driving down from Mount Washington Resort on Strathcona Parkway

WATCH: Rare close encounter with whale pod

Pod of southern resident orca whales breach within arms length of whale watchers

Most Read