Kevin – New Leaf Outreach Interview
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah. So my name is Kevin Donnelly. I'm one of the founders of Newleaf outreach. I helped start a drug user group here in and I know just over a year ago and it was an extension of a drug user group in Victoria called Solid stands for the society of living illicit drug users. So they asked if I would be interested in helping them start up. An office here in Naniamo. And right from the get go the dream was to become an anonymous drug user group of our own right. And how that autonomy and. They ended up having to cut their funding for the SOLID project in September just because of constraints on their and financial constraints. But it ended up working out beautifully because drug users continue to do this work for free which sucks because that speaks to the kind of exploitation of peer workers that we've seen for a long long time in B.C. and across Canada. But the the reality is if we kept doing this work and it paid off the B.C. Centre for Disease Control provided us with twenty thousand six hundred dollars to start the organization and begin the incorporation process. And that was two and a half months ago and the rest is history. And two and a half months we've we've brought in almost 100,000 dollars in grant funding for this project for the organization This Project is running off of the the initial twenty thousand six hundred from the BCCDC and some private donations some of which is coming from the cannabis industry. And. And. Then. The other kind in contingent the funding that we've received is for a pure outreach program that we run four days a week out of an office at 285 Preto Street which is a community services building. So we've procured office space there and we're running that program Monday Tuesday Thursday and Friday from 4:00p.m. till 7:00p.m. The office is open. Just those limited hours for now. Until we can continue to secure more funding. And then yeah the next chunk of funding is going to be going towards the establishment of a drug users' union. So we're creating like a democratic drug user group. So that's what differentiates the work that we do is we're not just a service provider providing a supervised consumption site is important but it's about the building up of a community of people who use drugs and empowering people who use drugs to be a force for social change raising their community. And that's what the focus of the drug user unity or drugs user union is is to sort of create that unity that helps strengthen an already preexisting network of people who use drugs in Naniamo empowering them to do so should be recognized to help society recognize that drug user rights are human rights. Is a human rights issue.
Kirk: So you don't you're still you're not promoting drug use.
Kevin: We were not promoting drug use but we are promoting the idea of establishing a safe supply of drugs and the understanding are like we promote the idea that. That people do use drugs and we need to end prohibition it didn't work with alcohol. It didn't work with cannabis. We need to create a safe regulated supply of drugs and that people who use substances regardless of whether it's crack cocaine methamphetamines opiates whatever they have the right to access the supply of drugs that they know so they know what they're purchasing they know what they're ingesting.
Kirk: But what people come to your safe injection site are coming with their own drugs. They are. Yeah. How does that make it safe so.
Kevin: Well the drugs themselves the supply is not safe. The supply is contaminated. I mean I do drug checking just with Fentanyl test strips. We're hoping to procure a mass spectrometer and a technician to operate that spectrometer in the near future with the help of the B.C. Centre for substances but almost every sample of of downer of opiates right. Contains fentanyl right. Now they're cutting it with fentanyl because fat no significantly cheaper. They can also step on it more right. And heroin goes a lot further when you can add fentanyl to it and strengthen it. But the issue there is that it's very difficult to actually like the margin of error is very wide. Right. Because there's a wide margin of error when it comes to cutting opiates with fentanyl. I mean a lot of heroin now on the street sold things soldiers heroin on the street don't contain heroin at all at all. And we're also seeing a rise in the number of intravenous opiate users that are seeking fentanyl as well because Fentanyl has a different and it's a different it's a different high than heroin as well. Fentanyl is generally described as being. As being a faster high. So the rush comes on faster and leaves you faster. It doesn't have legs like explain heroin like seems like cocaine on and goes. That's it. They've almost managed to find a way to make an opiate that. That acts like a stimulant and that sounds like a single cocaine or crack where you feel that need to use it again very quickly very soon after. Whereas with. With your typical morphine or dilodid or heroin you'd be. You'd be silly to use again so soon after because you're not going to be able to get any higher.
Kirk: I think you felt if your name is or your name is Kevin however you want to explain yourself. Who are you. What's your role what your background. What brought you here.
Kevin: I'm a person with the lived experience and fairly recently lived experience. I've been struggling with what I call a recurrence of use. In the last little while and so the experience as well with kind of using substances again after not using them for quite a long time was a huge wake up call for me as well. You know I myself had an overdose a pretty severe overdose in Vancouver in November and since that time I haven't picked up again. But it was a wake up call. You know first was like I stepped away from doing harm reduction work overdose prevention work. Is this a sign that I should immerse myself in it even more because now I've been on the other side of things you know. I've revived a lot of people with naloxone I don't know. I work at the sanctioned overdose prevention site here as well as a casual shift worker. Which is an institutional top down service provider to client model. Yes. As. A designer a model that we're seeking to avoid recreating here. Right. Because we want to involve appears. To be completely peer on.
Peer run harm reduction is when the services that are being provided and the distribution of protection supplies themselves are being provided to people who use drugs by people who use drugs or at the very least by people with lived experience are some people who who understand that drug use are.
Kirk: People people come to hear come to your tent. And they bring the war on drugs. And they get clean needles from you.
Kevin: Clean needles they get all of the works right. So they get rigs clean needles they get sterile water alcohol swabs to prep. Cookers to cook their drugs with tourniquets to tie off with and most of the most important things that the slip provides supervision. Right. OK. So at. Any given time while the site is operational there will be at least two volunteer peers so people with lives or living experience a current drug user experience. On shift and monitoring people while they use and. Ready. Ready to act immediately responding when real shit should have happened.
All of the equipment it is donated are about through donations. But the harm reduction supplies themselves are provided by Island Health by the health authority. That's kind of like with the advent of harm reduction becoming more of a buzz word. We're sort of seeing the government take on the responsibility of ensuring that these supplies are provided and towards an anti-prohibition stance. That's really where we want to see things go. We want to move from a harm reduction model to an anti-prohibition model right where. We're realizing that. It's not just about clean rigs and sterile water and supplies provision or the supervision but it's about the drugs themselves and about the drugs the drugs the clean regular.
Kevin: Absolutely. Well first of all I'd like to point out that I'm really grateful that you're seeing the name as reference to cannabis because that's what it was intended to be. I think sometimes people are like Oh is that a recovery related thing. And it's not. No it's all about acknowledging the fact that cannabis is an incredible substitution for people with opioid dependency or any drug dependency really but particularly opioid dependency because of the fact that. We can. We can sort of move people away from dependency on having the opioid receptors in their brains activated by utilizing opioids instead. You know, activating the cannabinoids receptors and allowing people to use cannabis. For Pain management which more often than not you find the people utilizing opiates because of pain management. OK. And then the other thing too is like the therapeutic value of smoking cannabis like emotionally and things like that as well. People use drugs whether it's cannabis cocaine heroin whatever. The use of variety of different substances to to address the physical or emotional pain. Right. So. So what we're also recognizing that there's there's some extreme Psychological kind of benefits that people utilize in cannabis when they're when they're trying to obstain from using opiates and not just employing cannabis either as a means to address the withdrawal symptoms like the people who want to stop using completely. But even if people want to work on controlling their usage of opiates. And you know help curb some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with not getting a fix for a while. And we want to help them. Alleviate the pain associated with that in-between times.
Cannabis is being used by Newleaf Outreach and by a lot of drug user groups across the province as an exit drug because because people are realizing that that's all that they need in order to to feel good you know they don't need to resort to opiates they don’t need to be resorting to cocaine or crack or methamphetamines or whatever they're using.
Kirk: And you've had successes with that.
Kevin: I've seen massive successes with that. Yeah. Just in terms of the volunteers that we've been. Working with in the first the last year we never had a structured cannabis substitution program per se here in Naniamo but we did engage a lot of the peers the volunteers themselves that were involved in our outreach program for the first year in our own kind of internal cannabis substitution program. So if you access medicine through I'd say we would we would offer that to them.
Kevin: We are. Like. Although even kind of like growing rapidly. I would still say that we fall in the category of a fledgling drug user group at this point right. We've only been. Back in action for about two and a half months now. We've been trying to wrap our heads around how to best establish a structured cannabis substitution program right. Because there's always a risk of that that if we're given people cannabis with the intention of them using either using it to treat, to treat their withdrawal symptoms or to opioid substitute. It's not always going to be used that way. You know they mean so we're trying to conceptualize a program that has structures in place to make sure that we're monitoring. The benefits that are being approved by the use of cannabis by people that are enrolled in an actual program.
One of them are founders Sapha, he has been a huge proponent of cannabis therapy and with regards to recovery and things like that. So, he kind of came in with the idea of wanting to create a holistic treatment program element to the work that we do. OK. So Newleaf Outreach reaches more than just the like Frontline harm reduction. Overdose Prevention sites which is where this is what this is. But in terms, of active programs currently this is sort of this and the outreach program are the main components as well as drug user advocacy in terms of you know if people are having issues with service providers and I know that you are targeting drug users then we can we can advocate on their behalf. That kind of thing. And then the political campaigning aspect of it but most of it right now is focused on that harm reduction and ant prohibition safe supply piece. The Cannabis program the holistic recovery aspect of it and the treatment recovery aspect of it is still something that has to be conceptualized and built up because it's still a dream that has to be built. And as we were kind of sort of navigating this new. You know like this is kind of new era dawned upon us with the legalization of cannabis and the regulated market and that kind of thing. It's important that we're not jeopardizing any anybody that, You know, wants to support the cannabis holistic recovery treatment side of things without jeopardizing that kind of gray area that a lot of producers are in at the moment. Right. So. With regards to a structured candidates program it's still in the works.
Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club
Julia: So our club here the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club. We started about 23 years ago just over and we are a member’s club where we supply cannabis and medicinal cannabis products to people with incurable illnesses. So it's basically in a nutshell what all that means is that we're a club where people who can prove that they have a condition that is not going to go away. And need either access to information about cannabis. Information about how it works in the body and just in general educational products and they can come they can sign up and become a member of our club. And then. That's one thing that we provide for them. A number of other things we provide as well you know we're a community here so you have a whole bunch of different free things that are available for our members to use. Because non-profit called we generally whatever we make we put back into the club and everyone that's a part of it is contributing.
Julia: They've tried to introduce regulations and they've tried to create the so-called quote unquote medicinal cannabis legal medicinal cannabis. You know regulation is out there but they really have done such an inadequate job. And that's primarily why we exist. We fill in the gap for all the people that are able to access. Because of Doctors liability issues location whatever it may be. But it is a dispensary for medicine but again we supply we have about 75 different products available care so depending on your medical condition those products are really tailored to suit whatever the members needs are. So for example suppositories towards most people I are not comfortable making their own suppositories at home. There's issues with staking out your house trying to figure out how to make butter. There's issues with dosing all the reasons why we should be involved in making these products and testing them are the very reasons why people should not be doing them at home because unfortunately the laws are written backwards right. Right now it's OK to buy flower and you know medicinally you can buy from a licensed producer if you have medical license. But you can't buy a cookie and you can't buy as a suppository as a medicinal use. You can't buy a cookie. There are no cookies or any licensed producers they have and they've got some of them I've seen drops I've seen capsules that there are no edibles whatsoever. There there's no suppositories that I've seen there's. And. Again for someone with cerebral palsy that is you know in need of edibles it doesn't want to smoke. You can't tell someone like that who's wheelchair bound that OK here's your dried flower now go home and try to make that cookie, right and while there's nothing out there for them. Again that's that's why we're here and I'm okay. Unfortunately, that's also what makes us illegal is the very fact that we sell the products that people are so desperately in need of. Is the very reason we are at risk.
The difference between a compassion club and a dispensary, there's a few. It is it is really going to come from the spirit of the organization and just like any business or organization everyone's going to be different but a compassion club should have compassionate pricing. So for us we are non-profit. We will go to every means necessary to try to make medicine more available for patients. There are a lot of places that are doing that kind of thing they have programs in place where they give you incredible sick members grants give free medication that be compassion club would provide that.
Julia: We have growers that we've been working with since the very beginning. They are on the island here. They've grown usually one or two strains and they just hold for us they'll grow the crop for about a month cut it down have cycles ready to go and keep restocking of the same strains the same clones.
Kirk: These growers they must conform to or they license the ACMPR growers.
Julia: It's a very interesting like right now those new production licences are just coming out recreational means but again you have to have the funds to be able to purchase a licence like that you have to go through the application process but there are craft growers like to call them
Kirk: but I can go out I can go to the governor say I want to get my medicinal growers licence and grow my own.
Julia: You can try it yeah.
Kirk: But there are people doing it. People are getting those licences so.
Julia: For example I myself I've had since my cervical cancer I've had seven laparoscopic surgeries I had five specialists and I just on October 17 had my family doctor finally agreed to sign for me to have an ACMPR. Well I have five specialists in care so and those are all oncologists. With cervical cancer a young age. My last surgery was a full hysterectomy and I did the entire operation without the use of opiates because of how bad on my body.
Kirk: Did your doctors ever question why you weren't taking the opiates or.
Julia: Oh no no they were 100 percent's of the cannabis I'm getting off of opiates and supportive of the cannabis but not one of them wanted to put their own legal liability on the line because it would be very any any doctor everything that they see in that room they have to have defended by the College of Physicians and Surgeons and if they don't it's an insurance liability right. It is not so much about the morals it is literally about can they defend what they have just recommended. There are physicians though that are writing prescriptions so that's true but they are also putting themselves at risks with that if they feel that they can defend them. There's more doctors that are willing. But again if you have a doctor that like my family doctor he said it to me very well and just look I'm sorry I went to school and they did not teach me anything about cannabis and I can't sit here and recommend that you should use this when I don't know anything about that. I haven't learned it in school. The long term human studies are just being done. I don't feel comfortable putting my license. I've earned of it.
Kirk: That's fair for the doctors. Let's go back to the organization.
Julia: Yeah me is that then as a result so for someone like me I was stuck in the position where it was either take the opiate medication or get nothing right. However I was lucky enough to find a place like this. That said as long as you can prove you actually had cancer we don't need you to show that your doctor is supportive. And then I was able to get my medication and eventually I ended up getting hired here. If this place do not exist before October 17th I would not have anywhere to go. If I had surgery again I would be absolutely on either be putting myself at the put myself at the feet of the government or go to another try to find a dispensary or something and pay whatever prices they pay. That year that I had the hysterectomy I got it up. I'm trying to claim this on my taxes now because I used to have it opiates all the time every day thing and I paid over ten thousand dollars in one year cannabis mediation and I mean when you're you know working with a lot of money it's something that sets us without any supplements or anything. Yeah no but you know what I didn't I didn't have to take any opiates. Right. And I'm healthier than I've ever been. And people out there need to how the other options. And unfortunately we're in a position where we're watching the government try to catch up and in the meantime they're OK with letting other people fall through the cracks. And that's that's what compassion clubs really are here to do is to fill in those gaps a lot those people falling through where that Health Canada wont defend and that they can't afford to go to these recreational dispensary and use. Doubts.
Kirk: Victoria the Victorian Cannabis Buyers Club has been around since 1996. Yes. So tell me some history about the club like you see on your web page your web page tells me that you you've confronted the laws. We certainly have. Give me a rundown of the business. How does this stand. How does it stay open when it's technically against the law.
Julia: Well usually I like to say anyone who's ever trying to shut us down just usually doesn't understand what we're doing. The club started. our Founder Ted Smith started the club literally in the back of the van and it was created because he had friends of his who were desperate for cannabis medication. They were all sick and they needed some. So he just started selling it to them and then they told their friend who was sick and it started to turn into this club. And we have been raided four times in the past and we have successfully beat the charges every single time.
Kirk: And how do you beat the charge. What's with the law. How do you argue the law.
Julia: Based on the Constitution. You know as a Canadian citizen you have a right to take whatever medicine you like to treat your own condition. It's the same laws that protect you from having to Doctor force chemotherapy on you if you were to get cancer or force another medication on you. And again we know that for a lot of this medication is safe and no one's ever. No one's ever fatally overdosed from cannabis. It's impossible to do so. The part of your brain that controls your heartbeat and lungs it can't be overstimulated by cannabis. There's not enough endocannabinoid receptors there. So no one has ever died from it. Nobody ever will. It is safer than most things that are on our shelves. And again it's these commonsense arguments that our founders sat down and if there were a lot of situations where honestly I remember the first couple of raids he just talked to the police and the people involved themselves. And there was another situation where we did have to take it to the B.C. Supreme Court. In that situation the judge took a look at our proof of condition and said you basically have never sold anything to anyone who isn’t sick and you have a note that can prove that our founder again. Yeah that's absolutely true. And so they dropped all trafficking charges. There was one situation where the CRA that decided to come out of the city. No the Canada Revenue Agency OK I'm claiming taxes. How come you haven't paid your GST your payroll remittance. This is long before legalization. So it's really kind of funny in the way they went out on (Al Capone and get them on the taxes) that one. And and. Again. Ted explain where we were coming from. We turned the organization into a non-profit society at that point. And the last raid which was our most famous was our bakery. We had a bakery that was busted. The employee working there Owen Smith was arrested and we fought the charges on that charge. The charges for trafficking and making edibles ended up going to the Supreme Court of Canada and we successfully fought that charge. We ended up basically setting the Canadian precedent for all Canadians to be able to use and extracted cannabis in any form.
Kirk: So all the medicinal uses of cannabis. That's true yes or no effects because what we're trying to do what I'm trying to understand is the difference between medicinal cannabis and recreational. So you are strictly medicinal.
Julia: We are strictly medicinal right. So it's always affected us. And again I forgive you with that with the language before a lot of that time it was really of the possibility of recreational cannabis in Canada just wasn't even on the horizon. So medical was right before. Every time they dropped the cannabis.
Kirk: So how many members do you have right now.
Julia: We've got close to 7300 nobody's around and they wander through here. and we're open 365 days a year even Christmas Day.
It's it has changed our club. We have definitely noticed that there's a lot more people coming in here and a lot more desperation from the dispensaries around town. did your membership go up. Oh absolutely. Our membership and our traffic increased. And while that might be a positive you know we're we're definitely happy to be helping more people and to be you know operating it at our best and fullest capacity. But at the same time it's really really heartbreaking to see so many walk in the door with stories like I used to take this medication. I used to get this cannabis medication at this place by my house and they've closed and they won't open. Do you have anything like it and you know you see these people are just very just praying that you so worried.
Kirk: So these were dispensaries for medicinal users before. These were the gray market dispensaries right. The infamous ones in B.C. Everyone knew you could go get cannabis in B.C. Yeah but they've all closed up.
Julia: Well Victoria we had at one point I think it was 35 and whether the dispensary was recreational or not like whether it was strictly medicinal was really up to the place. Unfortunately when the majority of them closed. All these people who had been very used to being able to access cannabis for whatever reason whether it was recreational or whether it was medicinal. There were lots of people that went into recreational dispensaries with a genuine medical need that just happened to find something like there or something that worked for them. It's it's horrible. They're all they don't have anywhere to go. And you know most of them are coming in here thanking God that they found us and or you know or said just hoping that we've got something similar to what they're looking for or something suitable.
I blame the B.C. provincial government and that's generally where where we're pointing the finger because this is really on them they shouldn't really be spearheading this again. BC were known as you know B.C. Bud B.C. stands for Baked Canadians. exactly. And you know we should be just you know this should be our economic boom right here. You have pipeline protests like crazy there. And realistically this is a whole new industry that can it's going to suck carbon out of the atmosphere it's going to create a ton of jobs it's safe. It's all there's so many reasons and it's unbelievable to see the provincial government not only be so skittish on creating groundbreaking regulations they are actually turning around and going the other way and being you know creating these cannabis inspectors these particular there is a new breed of Cannabis Gestapo. Oh yeah, I'm not even kidding. They are right. They don't require a warrant to enter a dispensary. They will come in and basically the threats that is made is if they find you operating without a recreational license or as a license producer with. All of. Those licenses and what not they can literally they'll they will shut you down they will take all of your inventory and the value that you usually find double that amount. You can get up to 14 years in jail.
Kirk but yet they don't even have any stores to patrol. So they've come up with the security but no stores.
Julia: Well they're there to catch us there and catch everybody else. Right. All the ones that are still operating.
Kirk: What do you want people to know about the Victoria cannabis buyers club. What would you like our listeners to know about club.
Julia: I'd like I'd like them to know that we're here to help that they. We would love for any of any of our listeners that are needing help are hurting that are not at their best to come to us with their worst. This is not a place where people come here bringing their best. We don't expect you to be in great moods or feeling some are able to move. We're here to accommodate and help and in any event we really can't. (And you can buy online. And consult online.) Absolutely. We do at home sign ups. We do deliveries based on availability. There's no cost to members. It's just based on staff availability. If there's something that we can do to help somebody even if it's just providing information there's really no pressure about sales here. That's not what the place is about. It's about trying to get anybody high. But. We want. We we want to welcome everybody into our community.
Kirk: So where where does the expertise come from when you when you're offering you're obviously consulting and helping people and giving advice right. So where's that expertise come from.
Julia: It comes from the collective experience of all of our membership. All of the staff have something that we bring to the table some of us are growers some of us have. You know medical history some of us have more medical backgrounds others with plants and we all have something we bring the table. We were obsessed with this plant. We study it nonstop and we're seeing people come in with their results and how are you studying and what way we look at. We're very. It's our everyday it's our day to day life where were we. We document what we see people going through. We watch people that we know with these individual conditions and they are trying different things and we see how it works for them. We're watching this we're studying like plant happening in action. And we're very honest about what we don't know. We're not doctors we're not qualified to prescribe anything. We don't take prescriptions as proof for condition because we're not qualified to know what that prescriptions for and will be the first to say we don't know something. But what we do know will be based on seeing something that has happened over and over again in the works. And again it's not that we'd ever say definitively something oh this will work for you or cannabis will cure this. It would be more like. We have seen people who have had. These results using this. And.
Kirk: So you don't have to worry about it. Like when I walk into legal dispensaries like it's. Meant there's there's there's big vaults and you know. Brick vaults and there's all of these regulations you guys don't seem to fall into. This is an older building it's very relaxed environment. The others cannabis behind the glass. The worst restriction I say is don't touch the growth of the glass. Yes actually it's looser. OK. So how is the security here. It is just faith.
Julia: Oh no. Oh no. We have lots of different locks and you know safes around and you know we put them you know we put the product away and lock it up at night. (So your responsible). Oh absolutely. Again it's been 23 years operating. So I mean it's before me. They've. They've had to work through all sorts of different problems of operating. But again what you were saying about the place and the way that it is we really want people to feel like they're at home here. This is a home. It is. It isn't the kind of place where we're going to make him pay for the floor. We don't tack on extra prices to be able to buy you know fancy to or anything like that because again we don't want people to feel uncomfortable coming here we want people at their worst for someone who's just gone through a chemotherapy treatment. We want them to feel like honestly if they could puke all over the floor and not be embarrassed to come back here and be comfortable with a staff member being saying sit down. No seriously I'm cleaning that up like don't touch it like you just sit here go on medicate. And obviously that's happened. Yeah. We we have a lot of it gets pretty real here pretty fast. We have. Quite a few members that pass away regularly. We have a lot of people dealing with palliative care and life. We have about nine pediatric cases of really really sick kids. And again it's it's really here that.
Kirk: Do You have any physicians and nurses on staff as advisors or as all of them true. Isn't that interesting.
Julia: Well again it's not we don't. We can make suggestions for people and again it's based on what we've seen what we know. We know the clinic is safe. We know our growers really well we know exactly where these products are coming from. That relationship of of having growers produce for us for such an approach that growers are studying the plant so they know that they know it's a sativa. They know it's got to be there. You know the sort of things that I remember it's pretty much most of our growers you can talk to them for about five minutes and realize that they are they are obsessed with plants and not good with social situations. I have one grower who's experimented with growing with ocean water like it's you. All of them use organic materials. You know and we sell some organic materials here like it's really about the love and care put into the plant and that's where again the smaller scale. Having a grower that has been working on one or two strains that they love for 20 years just watching these plants and babying them. Knowing it's going to really sick people and then cutting that crop down bringing it to us having another one ready to go. Is it really that care The road network people yeah it's a real community here. We're healing community. And. You know we do provide more than just. Medicine as well. We have you know we have a smoking room. Yes the box the box. Yes. We provide a safe place for our members to be able to medicate out the public. You know a lot of risk for many by law. And also protect their dignity. I don't know any cannabis user that wants to turn the corner face to face with the mother and a couple of kids.