He opens a hard drug store and gets arrested: The unusual protest of a man who lost his brother to an overdose in Canada

The owner intends to provoke a debate regarding the supply of these substances, decriminalized since January in British Columbia

Jerry Martin's makeshift hard drug stand in Vancouver.JENNIFER GAUTHIER (REUTERS)

Jerry Martin’s business venture lasted just 24 hours, but he hopes his gesture will have an impact on his country’s laws. Martin, 51, opened on Wednesday a mobile hard drug store in the Downtown Eastside, a Vancouver neighborhood hit hard by the wave of drug overdoses in Canada. On Thursday, local police announced Martin’s arrest. His store offered customers heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.

Health Canada launched on January 31 a three-year pilot project decriminalizing the possession of several hard drugs in British Columbia, the first initiative of its kind in the country. Authorities allow a maximum of 2.5 grams of substances for those of legal age. The measure is part of a strategy to reduce overdose deaths. In 2022 alone, this Canadian province had 2,720 such deaths.

Regarding Martin’s arrest, Vancouver police said in a statement, “We support measures aimed at improving public safety for people who use drugs, including harm reduction services and decriminalization. “However, we remain committed in our position that drug trafficking will continue to be the subject of enforcement.” Martin has been released pending the setting of a court date. He is also banned from the Downtown Eastside.

In his short-lived mobile store, Jerry Martin sold small bags of drugs whose weight — as the project in British Columbia mandates — did not exceed 2.5 grams. In addition, these drugs had been tested to rule out the presence of fentanyl, the main cause of the wave of overdoses. In an interview with Global News, Martin said that his initiative seeks to open a reflection on a safer supply of drugs. “People don’t even know what they are getting (typically). It’s very important that people know when they are buying something, they are getting that product.”

Jerry Martin has indicated that his arrest — also part of his plan — was meant to launch a serious, nationwide debate on safe and legal access to these substances. For him, the current legislation favors a supply chain with dire consequences. He also said he planned to use the profits from his store for an awareness campaign. Martin himself suffered from drug addiction problems and lost a brother to an overdose.

Some Canadian physicians are authorized to prescribe diacetylmorphine (pharmaceutical grade heroin) to addicts. However, federal authorities have indicated that over-the-counter sales of hard drugs are not on the table. In early March, the company Adastra Labs announced that it had obtained permits to produce, sell and distribute cocaine in British Columbia. Health Canada was quick to point out that the company had been authorized to do so for scientific and research purposes only. Adastra Labs had to rectify the information.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS