Vancouver drug users suggest co-op to sell cheap cannabis as substitute for hard drugs

Cannabis stores cannot sell weed below the minimum price set by the B.C. provincial government

cheap-cannabis

A Vancouver rally calls for safe drug supply amid overdose deaths. Photo by Travis Lupick.

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Drug users in Vancouver want to buy cheap cannabis from a community-run store in the Downtown Eastside.

They believe cannabis serves as a safer alternative to hard drugs that cause harms like overdose deaths.

However, current B.C. provincial rules allow only either private or government stores to retail recreational cannabis.

In addition, the province sets a minimum price for weed, which some people cannot afford.

Moreover, federal regulations on medical cannabis pose a number of barriers to certain people in the Downtown Eastside.

Currently, rules do not allow a co-op or any social enterprise model for cannabis distribution.

A report to the city council of Vancouver laid out this situation based on feedback from the neighbourhood.

Kathryn Holm, chief licence inspector, wrote the report following consultation with the community.

Holm reported that feedback from the Downtown Eastside or DTES show that people prefer “community run or non-profit stores, not ‘big corporations’”.

Also, that they wish to see an “an alternate cannabis retail model in the DTES”.

Holm related that participants indicated that majority of people in the area do it for “medical reasons”.

They said that cannabis “helps with a number of medical issues”.

These include “opioid use, alcohol addiction, less harmful alternative to pharmaceuticals, arthritis, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, pain relief, and sleep”.

They also pointed out that alternative models like a co-op would “improve access” to cheap cannabis.

To clarify, a co-op can provide weed on a “sliding scale” of prices with its “low barrier, community-oriented approach”.

The consultation included the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.

Monopoly shuts out cheap cannabis

On October 1 this year, CannCentral highlighted the issue around the provincial government’s monopoly on legal cannabis.

The province supplies, sets the price, as well as sells recreational cannabis. Stores cannot sell below the minimum price.

“What they’re doing is artificially increasing the price of cannabis,” Kyle McCormack of the B.C. Libertarian Party said.

For fiscal year 2019-2020, the province earned $135.9 million from cannabis sales.

In the report to Vancouver city council, Holm mentioned groups that provide cheap cannabis as a harm reduction alternative to hard drugs.

The city staff member cited the High Hopes Research Society, and Serious Hope Society/Healing Wave.

These groups operate outside the legal system, giving people cannabis and related products “at low or no cost”.

Substitute needed for hard drugs

Holm wrote that there is a “demand for cannabis through these types of unregulated distribution models”.

In connection with this, CannCentral reported on June 3, 2020 that High Hopes filed an application for a development permit before city hall.

The group told the city that it wants to open a shop at 60 East Hastings Street called Community Cannabis.

Former parks and recreation commissioner Sarah Blyth started High Hopes in 2017.

The proposed Community Cannabis shop will provide subsidized cannabis as well as free weed for research purposes.

The location will also feature a research section.

Current rules prohibit other activities other than sales in cannabis stores.

Vancouver city council received Holm’s report for information on October 20.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo

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