Advocates for the homeless say that cannabis helps alleviate the daily suffering of sleeping on the street and can replace the most harmful addictions
Should organizations help those who sleep on the street to access medical cannabis?
On any given night of the year, in Sacramento County alone, 5570 people sleep outdoors because they lack the financial resources to live in a home. The last count of this year estimates that in the city of San Francisco 7500 people are in the same situation. It seems incredible that this reality is happening in the richest state in the world.
Homelessness is a widespread epidemic in the major cities of California for many years. Addiction to drugs and mental illness are the two main causes of this high number of people living on the streets. Now it seems that there is a new possibility to reduce this number of people. The new strategy? To fight addiction to drugs and the suffering that homelessness causes, marijuana is a great medicine.
Like other citizens who own housing, the homeless also consume cannabis. However, it raises a series of questions about why they use it, how they can afford it, and whether it could help reduce addictions to hard drugs. To find out, the organization SN & R looked for homeless people in different cities and spoke with them.
JS has been living on the street for almost 13 years. The first day he saw himself living without a roof he was only 18 years old. Until that moment he was a professional athlete. When asked why he is living on the street, he looks down and does not want to respond.
JS smokes cannabis daily. “When I wake up, I smoke my bong and then I feel good.” Marijuana smoking helps me perform my domestic chores “Cannabis also helps with the pain of an old injury he had when he was a professional athlete and the back pain that causes him to sleep JS explains that without marijuana he cannot sleep because he thinks about all his problems and feels he goes crazy, JS explained that he recycles cans and bottles for money and thus get the cannabis that, of course, he buys in the black market since the prices of dispensaries are too high.
JD, a 30-year-old woman who started living on the street when she ran out of her car five years ago, said she smokes cannabis infrequently because it makes her feel paranoid. However, she does consume cannabis since she was diagnosed with cervical cancer six years ago, just before she became homeless.
Experiencing, JD learned to make cannabis edibles that were highly effective in combating her pain and that helped her regain appetite. Thanks to that she managed to gain weight since she was too thin.
However, the cannabis edibles did not make her feel the psychoactive effects. She just felt strong enough to do his things and, most importantly, made her get up in the morning. This woman scavenges the daily food and explains that on some occasions she has found remains of marijuana flowers that were the remains of the crops of the individuals.
Could medicinal cannabis really be useful for the homeless?
“Living on the street without a safe haven is a constant stress factor for the central nervous system, the body and the psyche,” explains Amy Farah Weiss, who was presented to the mayor of San Francisco in 2015 and is currently director of the San Francisco Challenge, which offers services for the homeless. Amy believes that cannabis can be an effective substance for the homeless and not a gateway to hard drugs.
She explains that often homeless people consume methamphetamine, heroin and alcohol as defense mechanisms to withstand physical and emotional distress. But the reality is that these drugs, over the years, have a very high price for health. On the contrary, cannabis serves as a medicinal therapy that can provide relief to a stressed nervous system, and that does not cause deaths or physical dependencies.
Amy Farah Weiss takes to the streets with a dozen joints high in CBD and offers them to homeless people who are visibly agitated or simply ask for something. People feel very grateful and relax with just offering them cannabis.
Although there have been previous attempts, there are currently no organized programs in California to give free cannabis to the homeless.
Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 34. Under this bill, cannabis companies would be allowed to freely donate cannabis to patients for compassionate use, without paying special taxes on that donation. The bill is currently paralyzed in the Assembly.
However, the individual donation of cannabis is legalized and some citizens take to the streets to give marijuana to those who are homeless.
Dan Bernick is a retired teacher who gives joints to homeless people at Christmas. Tracey Lola is a 43-year-old cannabis advocate who also goes out to give pots to the homeless. “Happy cannabis day. Would you like to smoke a joint? “, she asks. She says that a few rejected the offer, but most accepted it with gratitude.
“You made my day!”, told Lola a homeless woman who credits cannabis with staying away from alcohol.
Lola also visits a homeless man to who she gives marijuana joints. He sleeps and lives next to City Hall. This man told her that cannabis helps him with his nerves, his shoulder pain and his sleep.
Lola recognizes that cannabis also helped her to fight depression when she was young. She says that people do not feel afraid when she approaches them. In fact, she believes that homeless people are the best at reading your energy and that she keeps in her memory the memory of the smile of many. And that seems an excellent reward to people like Lola, Weiss and others like them.
While this solution to fight drugs with another drug may seem a contradiction, the same could be said of the programs that distribute new syringes among drug addicts to avoid contagion. Professionals in the public health sector have known for 30 years that needle exchanges are effective, showing a decrease in the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. The same philosophy applies to the idea of giving free marijuana to the homeless.
The legalization of marijuana in California allows 21-year-olds to give away an ounce of cannabis for free. Because to be medically qualified as a medical cannabis user you have to pay a fee that most of the homeless community cannot get.
Weiss wants to give an opportunity for homeless people to have a cannabis evaluation appointment with a doctor. This would create a space for these people to come and talk to a medical professional about each and every one of their health problems and concerns.
Access to free marijuana for the homeless can provide them with the help and resources they need to get off the streets and improve their quality of life.