Could access to low-cost pot in the DTES help with the opioid crisis? Vancouver councillor says yes


A Vancouver city councillor wants the city to relax its rules against selling pot in the majority of the Downtown Eastside in a bid to address the overdose crisis.

Vancouver’s original 2015 medical cannabis dispensary bylaw created an exclusion zone in the DTES barring sales except for stores on Hastings or Main streets.

But in a motion to be debated on Tuesday, Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Rebecca Bligh argues those rules may be holding back efforts to get opioid alternatives into the hands of people who need them.

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“Recent scientific findings have raised the possibility that cannabis might have a beneficial role to play in the overdose crisis, with preliminary evidence linking cannabis to reductions in the risk of experiencing drug-related harms,” states Bligh’s motion.

Bligh cites a UBC study of 2,500 DTES drug users which found cannabis helped 20 per cent of them to stay with treatment beyond six months.

The motion argues the city already supports exploring the role of cannabis as a possible alternative for addressing the opioid crisis, and says the exclusion zone may be doing more harm than good.

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“Health workers, addiction experts, and others working on the frontlines of the Downtown Eastside have reported that the situation on the Downtown Eastside has become much more dire since 2015,” reads the motion.

“[They] have suggested that the exclusion zone created by the City of Vancouver in 2015 has only served to further stigmatize the Downtown Eastside instead of protecting its vulnerable population, leaving people at the epicentre of the opioid crisis with no low-cost, legal options if they want to use cannabis as an alternative to more dangerous drugs.”

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If approved, Bligh’s motion would direct staff to look at ways to allow “well-considered” exceptions to the DTES exclusion zone consistent with a harm-reduction approach to the opioid crisis.

It would also ask staff to look at ways to allow the legal sale of low-cost cannabis for people who want to use it as an opioid alternative, but can’t afford it under current legal prices.

To that end, the motion proposes looking at ideas such as a “community cannabis store with a social enterprise and research focus.”

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