High Hopes Foundation says police seized cannabis on Downtown Eastside
VANCOUVER—On Friday morning, cannabis products being distributed to drug users by the High Hopes Foundation for the purpose of opioid replacement, were seized by Vancouver Police officers.
Sarah Blyth, founder the High Hopes Foundation which distributes the cannabis products for free, said that she was approached by officers in the Downtown Eastside at 62 East Hastings St.,who then seized the cannabis products.
Blyth said that High Hopes returned to the DTES on Saturday morning, and officers came back and told her that they would be making arrests if they did not leave. She posted another video of this interaction on Saturday.
“Today we put it back up, and they came in and said if you do this we’re doing to arrest all of you. We set up for a bit and decided since they were making threats to people it’s like, how can we deal with that?” she said.
Blyth posted another video of this interaction on Saturday.
Constable Jason Doucette, media relations officer at the Vancouver Police Department, said that the officers involved tried to identify who the products were owned by.
“Our officers attempted to identify the owner of the products but no one took ownership, including a woman seated near the table,” he said in a statement. “The product, including two plastic bottles of unknown powder, was seized and tagged at the VPD property office for destruction.”
Doucette also said that the products were illegal, and that selling them will continue to be illegal following the decriminalization of cannabis on Oct. 17.
“The cannabis (still an illegal substance) was in plain view at the market and was seized for destruction. Although our officers tried to identify the owner of the cannabis products being openly sold, no one took responsibility for it … Selling cannabis in this manner is illegal now and will continue to be illegal after cannabis is decriminalized in October.”
But Blyth said that the High Hopes Foundation was known to police, and that VPD officers had not seized any products from her until now. She that she will return to the DTES to continue her work, likely in the next few days.
“Were trying to figure out what to do but were not giving up we’ll be back.”
Blyth said that the distribution of cannabis products has helped save lives, especially for former opioid users who experience pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We run this program so vulnerable people have safe access to it. We t have it taken away in the middle of a crisis where people are dying every day is incredibly horrific.”
Blyth, who is running for Vancouver city council, said that the timing of the raid is suspiciously close to the election. She said that she plans get onto the Vancouver Police Board if elected.
“You’ve got to wonder why this is happening right now i mean honestly people can do the math there … If I end up on the police board I’m going to try to help push for changes.”
Dr. Keith Ahamad, a clinical researcher at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), said that he fears that this incident will increase fears of police and other authority figures and discourage people who use drugs from seeking help.
“I am working on the front lines of a opioid overdose crisis where people are dying in that neighbourhood in the hundreds and thousands of a health issue,” he said. My concern as a doctor working on the front lines, these people will be driven to hide away again as they are dying.”
He said that in his work with drug users, he finds that many view the police as part of a greater system, which includes first responders, doctors, nurses,and other professionals as part of “one greater institution” — which means that police behaving in this way could discourage people from accessing other services.
“My concern is when anyone under the umbrella is behaving in a way that is intimidating — it doesn’t foster the relationship with these people that we need in the middle of a health crisis,” Ahamad said.