VPD warns of trafficking charges one day after raid at cannabis dispensary
Published Saturday, September 15, 2018 7:21PM PDT
A controversy is brewing on the Downtown Eastside after police raided cannabis products and kratom from a program meant to help opioid addicts.
Vancouver police seized the drugs Friday, saying the drugs were out in the open and nobody at the site at 62 East Hastings would claim responsibility for them.
In a statement Vancouver Police told CTV, in part: “The cannabis (still an illegal substance) was in plain view at the market and was seized for destruction. 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.
“We do not want anyone trafficking drugs in the market. We have seen this type of trafficking of cannabis in other parts of Vancouver and have taken enforcement action after informal attempts to resolve the issue(s) were not successful. Selling cannabis in this manner is illegal now and will continue to be illegal after cannabis is decriminalized in October.”
Video posted to social media by Sarah Blyth with the Overdose Prevention Society shows police taking a small case with several items inside from a table staffed by volunteers.
Police said they seized cannabis items, as well as two plastic bottles of unknown powder, adding the items will be destroyed.
The drugs were part of a cannabis replacement program through the High Hopes Foundation, which operates with the Overdose Prevention Society. The group provides inexpensive and in some cases, free, marijuana products and kratom to people struggling with opioid addiction.
Police returned to the High Hopes tent on Saturday morning, and could be heard on video advising Blyth that selling the products is illegal and she could be arrested for trafficking.
“This should not be a priority in the middle of a crisis,” Blyth, who is also a Vancouver city council candidate, told CTV News.
Former B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has been monitoring the situation from Ottawa, where he now works with medical marijuana company Hexo.
“I was really disappointed,” Lake told CTV News. “In the past, Vancouver Police has been very respectful and cooperative with the efforts to fight the opioid crisis in Vancouver. They’ve been thoughtful about the way they managed the opioid response with the prevention centre, even before it was official. And then with this cannabis replacement program, which is to help people manage through the opioid crisis, they’ve been respectful up until now. Quite surprising and disappointing.”
Lake believes the VPD should have looked at the bigger picture and said the seizure seems out of step with the VPD’s previous actions.
“It isn’t just the letter of the law,” Lake explained. “It’s helping people and keeping people alive so they can actually find some help. I think it’s broken some of that trust that’s developed over the last few years. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I’m concerned that it will.”
Donald MacPherson with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition shares Lake’s concern.
“We're really desperate in B.C. to find any small intervention that can help the situation and a policing intervention like that is not one of the thing that helps,” MacPherson told CTV News. “I hope it's a tempest in a teapot here and not a shift in policy for the VPD because we all have to be working together on this.”
MacPherson called the High Hopes Program “a modest effort in a huge criminalized drug market in Vancouver.”
“It’s a declared emergency and we should be delivering safer drugs to people who are addicted to them,” he said.
As of Saturday morning, the High Hopes program was put on hold as Blyth and others decide what to do next.
“We are re-assessing what we're going to do,” Blyth said. “We are going to fight the police on this.”
While the public debate will focus on whether the bust was actually legal, the sad truth is that this action targets a small grass roots effort to help people struggling with addiction. It is punitive, compounds trauma and suffering, and contributes nothing to community safety https://t.co/3CF7XndqBw— Dr Mark Tyndall (@DrMtyndall) September 14, 2018