CANNABIS CULTURE – How the Cannabis Substitution Project adapts to serve Canada’s most notorious neighbourhood during COVID-19.
The following is a front-line report from CSP Director & Cannabis Culture advocate Neil Magnuson:
These are extraordinary circumstances for sure, with the measures being taken to address the spread of the latest version of the Corona virus, there is an eeriness and a very noticeable dampening of spirits on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. There are still a fair number of people on the sidewalks, unlike most other areas of the city. There are groups of people up and down Hastings St. in the usual spots, some people are closer than recommended but there is also more “spacing” than normal. Almost all businesses are closed, it’s really hard to find a washroom, there are alot fewer cars on the road and a lot fewer services available.
These are strange times to be down and out in the Downtown EastSide.
The authorities have installed several portable hand washing stations but the supplies are quickly stolen and the stations vandalized. The last few days there have been fire trucks driving up and down Hastings st. announcing the protocols over their speakers.
So far there are only a few rumors of cases in the DTES but it is a very vulnerable demographic with many unable to self isolate. If it starts to spread here it will be devastating. With so many people suffering even more due to this health crisis, and with the people in the area still being ravaged by the poisoned drug supply, our project is needed more now than ever.
The Cannabis Substitution Project is now in its 4th year of providing “care packs” of high dose Cannabis edibles for free to people to offset the use of street drugs and opioids. We meet twice a week and hand out over 250 packs each time. The CSP is run entirely by a team of amazing volunteers and all of the products that are in the care packs are provided by donations.We do this from the lobby of VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users at 380 E.Hastings, who have been very good about allowing us to use their space since the beginning.
With the go ahead from Coastal Health to continue, we understand the risks but we also know that if we don’t get them the “care packs”, the people we are helping and the community would be at a greater risk as a result.
There are so many people that express their gratitude to us for helping them, it is very moving and it is hard not to be emotional when people share their stories and tell us how the edibles allow them to sleep, deal with severe chronic pain, make it through withdrawals along with so many other testimonials of how it helps people in profound ways.
Many of the people we help have been lining up for our project for over 2 years, many say they are no longer using any other drugs, many say that Cannabis has saved their life, many of them would be lost and in despair if we were not able to help them.
As mentioned, Cannabis High dose edibles are effective for many people in helping to go through withdrawals and is also effective for replacing opioids and the other problematic street drugs.
We are using best practises in the way we are doing things, maintaining physical distancing, as well as masks and gloves. We discuss things after every giveaway, getting better as we go.
We are also using the opportunity to educate the assembled on how to stay safe by not touching common touch areas, keeping hands off of their faces, washing their hands, physical distancing, staying away from crowds, staying home if they are sick at all, using hot liquids and staying positive as many of them do not have access to the latest news.
Although we have been in regular contact with Coastal Health, and we do appreciate their understanding of the importance of us continuing, we have not had anyone come to help us in anyway. We could use more masks and we are still not able to properly meet the demand.
For the most part, people have been very co-operative especially when we explain that not complying puts our ability to help them at risk, but there has been considerably more tension over the past two weeks and we have had several instances of people acting out in anger.
We have recently incorporated the project as a not for profit society called the “Serious Hope Society” which puts us in a better position to move forward. What we really need is a storefront and have trying to find a space in the area for the past few months.
With a storefront we would be able to offer low barrier access to high dose edibles and other Cannabinoid therapeutics on a daily basis. It would also allow us to better follow the prescribed protocols.
We have reached out to the City for assistance but in the mean time we will continue the way we have been as best we can, there are a lot of people who rely on us and the need has never been greater.
For more information on the Cannabis Substitution Project click here.