Vancouver Foundation’s Cannabis Distribution Program Gains Health Canada Approval

Sarah Blyth, a longtime overdose prevention advocate, knows that marijuana isn’t a panacea for addiction and overdose issues, but she says it can help some people.

“People use it for sleep, they use it for pain, they use it for trauma…sometimes use it instead of opiates,” said Blyth, founder of the High Hopes Foundation and the website. injection safe from the Overdose Prevention Society on East Hastings Street. in Vancouver.

High Hopes began in 2017 as a harm reduction program that distributed medical marijuana in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as an alternative to illicit drugs. The program ended when marijuana was legalized in October 2018.

Today, the initiative is back up and running after Health Canada on Tuesday granted it a license to distribute medical marijuana prescribed by doctors or other medical practitioners.

“It’s a long time coming and we’re really excited to bring a unique program to people,” Blyth said.

“The idea is just to give people a safe supply of everything, including cannabis.”

Blyth says the nonprofit’s medical license should not be confused with retail licenses issued by the province. High Hopes fills prescriptions issued by a physician or other licensed physician, she says.

It doesn’t have a storefront, but rather locations in the Downtown Eastside where people can pick up prescriptions. There is also an option for delivery.

“A doctor will prescribe it for them and instead of having to get it online and things like that, which is difficult because they don’t have a credit card or a computer, we can get it to them,” Blyth said. .

The license allows them to work directly with producers, she says, adding that the organization will also advocate on behalf of people.

“Sometimes doctors aren’t used to prescribing it,” she said. “So I would be willing to advocate for them just to help…provide the necessary research.”

“It works for people”

Blyth says High Hopes’ approach is based on published, peer-reviewed research from the University of British Columbia (UBC), the BC Center on Substance Use (BCCSU), and the Yale School of Medicine, among others.

“It’s been shown in studies that it works for people,” she said, adding that she’s seen cannabis help people looking to quit harder drugs. “It reduces pain, stress, trauma.”

Dr. MJ Milloy (left) and Sarah Blyth in conversation in Vancouver after a march marking International Overdose Awareness Day. (Simon Gohier/Radio Canada)

Dr. MJ Milloy, assistant professor of medicine at UBC and research scientist at BCCSU, says more than 75% of people who use cannabis in the Downtown Eastside say they have a medical reason for doing so.

In addition to its physical benefits, there are also practical ones, he says.

“People who use cannabis are much less likely to use drugs from the unregulated supply,” Milloy told Radio-Canada.

“We hope that if we expand access to cannabis – through programs like Sarah’s – it could mean … less use of drugs like opioids, fentanyl or heroin.”

“A secure supply of everything”

Blyth says they are working on logistics, including plans to fund the High Hopes program.

She says she also wants to engage the local community and create employment opportunities – including foundation staff, who can offer advice and connect people with social workers, treatment centers and programs. Proximity.

The goal is to develop a subsidized distribution framework within High Hopes that can be expanded to legally offer other illicit drugs, she says.

“What we need is a secure supply of everything.”

Ryan H. Bowman