Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jul 2017
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 The Georgia Straight
Author: Amanda Siebert


A Downtown Eastside activist and a local entrepreneur are hoping to
spearhead the first nonprofit organization of its kind with support
from Vancouver's cannabis community.

The vocal support of Sarah Blyth, the founder of the Overdose
Prevention Society for grassroots, peer-led harm reduction led to the
establishment of several safe-consumption sites in Vancouver and beyond.

Unfortunately, the ongoing overdose crisis hasn't slowed-numbers for
2017 are set to double last year's count of 935 overdose deaths
provincewide-so when Blyth, who doesn't use cannabis, came across an
American study that found that states with legalized marijuana saw a
33-percent reduction in overdose deaths, she decided to explore the
concept further.

"I've had lots of people come to me with all kinds of different
alternatives [to hard drugs], and at no point did I ever set out
saying, 'Wahoo, cannabis!' " Blyth told the Georgia Straight one
recent July morning at a street market on East Hastings Street, where
she was dropping off some freshly baked cannabis-infused muffins. "But
with the evidence and the proof that I'm seeing, you can't really deny

"If you can provide a cheap medicinal option, like one of these
muffins for $2 instead of crack or cocaine, there's a lot of people
down here who will take it because it gives them enough of a body high
to hold off on other drugs for a while."

Mutual friends connected Blyth with the namesake of a local
cannabis-lifestyle brand, Miss Envy Botanicals, and together the two
have been baking infused edibles to distribute daily at the Downtown
Eastside Street Market.

Envy donates her line's THC-infused coconut and olive oils to make
muffins, granola bars, frittatas, bannock, and other snacks and meal
replacements as alternatives to hard drugs for users at the market. By
picking healthy ingredients, they're also able to help addicts who may
not be preoccupied with the idea of food to get some much-needed
nutrition into their bodies.

"This was an opportunity for the cannabis industry to get involved and
do something," said Envy. (Her real name was withheld at her request.)

Beyond providing users with edibles and prerolled joints donated by
local dispensaries, Blyth and Envy are also offering access to
alternatives like kratom, a herb with opioidlike properties, and
coca-leaf tea, which can take the edge off for users in the throes of
a crack binge.

Their plan to "saturate the market" with natural options for users is
just the beginning of what they hope will come to be known as the High
Hopes Foundation. "Patient care is our company's main priority," Envy
said. "We're hoping to throw a series of events that people will
sponsor, and they're all going to help get this foundation off the

Adding to their plan to implement mobile cannabis-dispensing units
throughout the city, the duo hope to recruit doctors who can help
users transition off opioids and other hard drugs with cannabis.

"Ideally, what we're trying to do is set up a program with 10 people
[hard-drug users] and give them as much as they need for the day [in
order] to get some data and then come up with some evidence to support
what we're doing," Blyth said.

In her search for support, Envy said, representatives at local
cannabis brands and dispensaries "didn't even bat an eye" when she
asked them to participate, with many offering to donate products on
the spot.

She noted that it can be challenging for entrepreneurs and companies
in the cannabis industry to take part in charitable efforts because of
the stigma the plant still has for some people.

Envy said it was a "no-brainer" to ally with Blyth, whose efforts in
the community have arguably led to changes in the way various levels
of government are approaching the overdose crisis here.

"I have so much admiration for what she's done, and that's a big part
of why we decided to go ahead and do this. It's a very well-deserving

City bylaws prohibit dispensaries in Vancouver from selling edibles,
but Blyth is confident in the precedent she has set as an innovator.

"We were the model for the overdose-prevention sites, but I think we
also have the leeway, respect, and relationships with people that are
using drugs, that people know we know what we're doing," she said.

Both said that the feedback from users has been positive. As they
chatted at the market, at least five people thanked Blyth and Envy for
their morning snack.

Take Zoe, for example (surname withheld by request). A Downtown
Eastside resident who has been using heroin for the past seven years,
she suffers from a variation of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which, she
said, causes extreme pain in her muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Before Zoe began using heroin, she had a federal licence to grow her
own medical marijuana. She said she wasn't able to renew her licence
and her lack of access to cannabis played a part in her turn to hard
drugs. Although she said she's still using opioids, she has found that
cannabis helps with withdrawal, and she gladly accepted edibles from
Blyth and Envy.

"If I had [the supply and the opportunity], I think I would go back to
cannabis," she said. "It's definitely the lesser of two evils."

To donate to the High Hopes Foundation, visit:
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MAP posted-by: Matt