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Why Vancouver Has Crack Pipe Vending Machines

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighborhood, long hampered by poverty and substance abuse, now has vending machines that sell crack pipes for cheap.

They were installed six months ago by local non-profit Portland Hotel Society. One is located at the Drug Users Resource Center; the other is at the Washington Community Market. The polka-dot machines hold 200 pyrex glass pipes each, and dispense them for 25 cents, much less than the street price. PHU says they sell out every week.

Before a free crack pipe pilot program was tested in 2011, pipes were selling around the neighborhood for as much as $10. "This machine decreases the street value of a pipe," Kailin See, director of the DURC told the Globe and Mail. "There was a time when pipes were scarce and there was a lot of violence around acquiring a pipe, so we decided to saturate the market."

Getting crack users to choose pipes from the vending machines can also help lower neighborhood infection rates for colds, flus, HIV, and Hepatitis C. Makeshift pipes are much more likely to have splintered glass which, if shared, can transfer infections and sores to other users.

The machine's design also helps take away a bit of the stigma associated with the drug and its users. Mariner Janes, a PHS manager, tells Vice that the colorful vending machine (which could easily be confused for a new snack machine) provides "a sense of respect and dignity to the user, who is pretty much stigmatized and reviled everywhere else in the city."

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney said last week in a statement that he disagrees with initiative, declaring, "this Government supports treatment that ends drug use, including limiting access to drug paraphernalia by young people."

But Janes hopes the dispenser isn't adding to the neighborhood's negative reputation, in fact he hopes the machine becomes more popular, telling CTV, "I'd like to see this idea go all over the place."


An exterior view of the Drug User Resource Centre is seen in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighborhood, British Columbia February 10, 2014. The resource centre is home to one of two vending machines that dispense crack pipes for 25 cents each. (REUTERS/Ben Nelms)


(REUTERS/Ben Nelms)


(REUTERS/Ben Nelms)


(REUTERS/Ben Nelms)


(REUTERS/Ben Nelms)


A used crack pipe is pictured in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighborhood, British Columbia February 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Ben Nelms)

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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