Address to City Council regarding bylaw amendments to cannabis vending
Mayor Robertson and Council
We have been given the chance, as municipalities, to tailor our cannabis legislation to the needs of our residents and communities. We owe it to our residents to take a deep look at what we want that legislation to achieve. Our decisions can be precedent setting, benefit communities across the country and maybe even around the world… if we get it right.
For the past six months, I’ve coordinated a cannabis based opiate substitution study at Main and Hastings for the Eden Medicinal Society. This Opiate Substitution Program provides safety tested high quality cannabis capsules and is a non-judgmental approach to healthcare for individuals with chronic pain and/or dependency on opiates or other substances.
The Opiate Substitution Program is in a zoning limbo and would continue to be so if we adopt these proposed bylaw changes. This location is not an MMRU or a methadone clinic, but these are the closest classifications available. Because of this, as of Saturday, the program is closing due to a lack of supportive zoning.
In these six months, we’ve observed among our participants not only a reduction in the use of opiates, but also in the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.
While the program is currently available at this standalone location, we have also created a step-by-step procedural guide to help administer the program at any Cannabis Store. The toolkit includes security protocols, product handling, data collection procedures and more.
Coming from this perspective and experience, we have three points for your consideration: Cannabis is not best regulated with the same rules as liquor. Density is the important measurement, not distance. And it is urgent to include the potential of cannabis as a harm reduction tool.
First, Cannabis and Alcohol are Apples and Oranges.
Both cannabis and alcohol can be used as intoxicants–as with many pharmaceuticals! But cannabis has therapeutic benefits and uses, while liquor does not.
An item in the public policy report states: “the rules and processes established for MMRU permits are consistent with those of liquor stores and fit cleanly into the regulatory regime being implemented by the Province for retail distribution of legal non-medical cannabis”.
We are concerned because our current liquor laws are insufficient to begin with: Between 2015 and 2016, B.C. saw almost 15,000 hospitalizations caused solely by alcohol abuse–the highest amount by province in the country. In the case of alcohol, our provincial legislation isn’t even working for the substance it was created for! We should not be enthusiastic about fitting cleanly into this legislation.
We have to prioritize suitability over strictness, in order to create legislation that focuses on harm reduction and public health gains.
The objective in forming these bylaws cannot be convenience. The objective must be suitability.
Second, We need to consider Density over Distance
Focusing on distance between providers doesn’t consider the reality of density amongst our different neighbourhoods. Vancouver has a dramatically uneven population distribution. The Downtown Eastside is one of Vancouver’s high density neighbourhoods at 9,147 people per square kilometre–not including residents with no fixed address.
Leaving density out of zoning guidelines means high density neighbourhoods like the Downtown Eastside cannot access support and therapeutic cannabinoid options as easily.
The provincial legislation around access to medical cannabis is clear–people who need “medical” access can use the internet or their phone to order LP produced cannabis to their residential address, presumably using a credit product or a bank account.
But what about the people without access to internet, or a phone, or a bank account or credit product, or a residential address? These are arguably the most vulnerable members of our society, who can gain the most from therapeutic cannabinoids.
People in areas without sufficient access to legal options will continue to turn to the black market for opiates and other illicit substances, without a safe point of sale or therapeutic wisdom or guidance. This scenario benefits no one.
In this respect, the important indicator is how populated an area is, not how far apart cannabis stores are from each other. Density is a more valuable consideration for public safety and harm reduction than distance.
Third, cannabis shows significant promise as a tool for harm reduction
Former British Columbia health minister Terry Lake has said the same. An increasing body of data supports this, too.
In BC, 1 in 5 residents are suffering from chronic pain and require medication. That’s 20% of our population. Double the number of people who voted in our by-election! And if you believe Gabor Mate, as I do, we’re all in some way medicating for pain.
Despite government efforts and an ongoing cost of $2 million, the opioid crisis continues to ravage our communities. Cannabis provides a safer option for pain management when administered by knowledgeable staff. Bylaws and zoning should favour cannabis stores committed to the principles of public safety and harm reduction.
For better or worse, Vancouver’s unique approach to servicing our most vulnerable population presents an opportunity to study how we can best solve the deepest problems of those afflicted with pain, loneliness, and dependency. We can’t expect that Cannabis Stores in the current suggested definition will do this work!
These bylaw changes fail to make the important distinction we have already made of the Compassion Club. Our Bylaw change should retain and develop this distinction further to encourage community responsibility.
Policy is strongest when it protects our most vulnerable people.
We urge you, mayor and council, to consider these essential aspects before adopting this legislative change. Cannabis is not best regulated with the same rules as liquor. Density is the important measurement, not distance. And it is urgent to include the potential of cannabis as a harm reduction tool.
We can do better, and we must for the sake of public health and protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.