British Columbia

Vancouver councillor calling for more pot shops to ease opioid crisis

Vancouver NPA Coun. Rebecca Bligh wants the city to revisit its exclusionary zoning that does not allow cannabis shops in the Downtown Eastside because she believes access to low-cost "social enterprise" cannabis can help address the community's opioid crisis.

Rebecca Bligh asking city to revisit bylaw restricting cannabis sales in the DTES

Vancouver NPA councillor Rebecca Bligh wants to make affordable cannabis more available on the Downtown Eastside because she believes it can help people suffering from opioid addiction. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Weed may be legalized but a city zoning policy prohibits cannabis stores from setting up shop in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and Coun. Rebecca Bligh want this to change.

Bligh, a Non-Partisan Association councillor, has put forward a motion asking the city to consider amending a zoning bylaw and allow for retail stores selling low cost cannabis. According to Bligh, the bylaw was established in 2015 before the opioid crisis peaked in B.C. and should be amended to allow low-cost cannabis to help people struggling with opioid addiction.

Bligh told Stephen Quinn the host of CBC's The Early Edition that  research done since 2015  shows early evidence that cannabis is helping people stay off "more dangerous drugs, including alcohol" and she wants affordable cannabis made available to the most vulnerable population of Vancouverites on the Downtown Eastside.

A map of the exclusion zone. (City of Vancouver)

The bylaw does not allow cannabis stores to legally operate in the area — which extends from Richards Street to Clark Drive — except for four approved locations on or near Hastings Street, the main artery, which are eligible for a provincial licence.

The four locations have received development permits from the city, but in order to proceed to the licence application phase with the provincial government, they will be required to close with no guarantee they will be approved by the province. 

The Medical Cannabis Dispensary on East Hastings in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. (Meera Bains)

The plan, said Bligh, would be to make "well-considered exceptions" to the exclusion zone, while keeping shops away from schools and community centres. She told Quinn the allowed shops could operate on a "social enterprise" model that would provide low-cost cannabis to low-income people who need it.

'There are a lot of social enterprises on the Downtown Eastside,' said Bligh. "There's no reason that cannabis can't be a part of that helping model."

The motion will be deliberated Tuesday at the city's regular council meeting.

The Early Edition

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