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Non-profit society helps north end residents swap substances for cannabis

The East Coast Cannabis Substitution Program has been trying to curb substance addiction since the beginning of the year
(stock photo)

A Halifax program is helping people addicted to substances by supplying them with cannabis.

The East Coast Cannabis Substitution Program started 10 months ago in the north end, and Chris Backer — the person behind the program — says it's already helping people in Halifax.

“A lot of times it gives people an opportunity to go back home, smoke some weed and have an edible as opposed to being out looking to score or looking for a fix,” he tells NEWS 95.7’s The Sheldon MacLeod Show.

Each Monday, Backer and his volunteers head to the former St. Patrick’s Alexandra Junior High School to supply people in need — such as those addicted to opioids, other drugs or alcohol — with cannabis products.

Backer says he’s received a lot of feedback from people who have used the program. For instance, some people told him it’s helped with issues including toothaches, arthritis and eczema. Others, who had been using the program, have been able to stop using it because they’ve been able to handle their addictions and find work.

“The people that we’re helping out, they’re marginalized as it is; they don’t feel like they’re wanted around,” he says. “They don’t feel like anybody really cares because the government and the healthcare system has kind of left them in a bad way.

“We’re just out there and trying to make things a little bit better.”

For the last nine years, Nova Scotia has reported that between 53 to 67 people have died from opioid toxicity each year. This year, that number is at 27.

“There’s a noticeable difference already. I’m not saying it’s just me, but for nine years running it’s been that number,” he says. “Unless something bad happens in December, I think we’re making an effective change in Nova Scotia.”

The first few months of the program were spent on Gottingen Street where Backer says they’d use empty doorways to give out the products. Recently, they moved to the junior high school because it was out of everyone’s way but still in the area where Backer says they’re needed.

Still, there are some Haligonians who are unhappy to see Backer and his volunteers in the area. CBC News also reported that a Nova Scotia Health physician says it’s an “unproven alternative” and is concerned people may stop using proven medications for opioid addiction treatment.

But Michael John Milloy, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and a researcher at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Abuse, wrote a letter in support of a similar program in Vancouver.

Backer says what he’s doing is legal and that people don’t have to perceive it as wrong.

“They think that the people that are there, are there because we’re there,” he says. “Sadly, I went to where the problem is; I went to where the people are. These are the people and their neighbourhood.

“As far as what people see, I’m in a lineup handing out food. If the parent or guardian wants to tell the kids that there’s drugs in there, then that’s on the parent or guardian. Other than that, I’m handing out edibles to people and they take their package and leave. It’s a nice, quiet line and everybody’s respectful.”

Since Backer can’t legally sell the cannabis products to the community, he gives them away for no charge. Moreover, he says the program relies on volunteers and donations.

“It’s been incredible,” he says. “A lot of people as patients, like I am myself, have been addicted to things or know people that’ve been addicted. So, there’s a lot of understanding and sympathy for the plight.”

Chris Stoodley

About the Author: Chris Stoodley

Chris was born and raised in Halifax. After graduating from the journalism program at King's, he started as's weekend editor.
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