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Vancouver city council debates cannabis sales in Downtown Eastside

Vancouver NPA councillor Rebecca Bligh is pushing the city to abandon a zoning decision that bans cannabis retail stores from the Downtown Eastside (DTES), an area known for its high concentration of social disparity, drug use, homelessness, and crime.

At the same time, the community also shows a strong history of social activism and resilience. The zoning decision, however, predates cannabis legalization in Canada.

The Downtown Eastside has been an exclusionary zone since 2015, following public hearings over medical dispensary licensing. Currently, the city’s zoning regulations state that no “cannabis retail hubs” can exist in the neighbourhood.

Bligh argued that there’s evidence that cannabis is more likely to help people get off dangerous drugs than it is to harm them, and that it should be available in the community.

Bligh was joined by Overdose Prevention Society Executive Director Sarah Blyth, who added that it’s not enough to have cannabis retail in the community, but rather, the cannabis must also be affordable so that those in the area—many of which live below the poverty line—can have accessible treatment options.

Locals are used to paying between $3 and $7 per gram, Bligh said, not the $12 to $14 per gram commonly paid in licensed retailers, and anyone concerned about serving the community will have to find the means to offer low-cost cannabis to aid in harm reduction.

Bligh hopes the motion will lead to more initiatives in the DTES area, a place that remains the epicentre of the city’s opioid crisis.

Jesse B. Staniforth's Bio Image
Jesse B. Staniforth

Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.

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