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Police investigate fire that engulfed DTES cannabis dispensary van

Police investigate fire that engulfed DTES cannabis dispensary van
Police investigate fire that engulfed DTES cannabis dispensary van

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A fire that destroyed an RV that distributes free cannabis to Downtown Eastside residents is suspicious, authorities say.

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Matthew Trudeau, spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department, said investigators suspected arson and had asked police to assist in the investigation.

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Within two minutes of receiving a call at 7:25 p.m. Sunday, firefighters from the DTES Fire Station arrived on scene at East Cordova and Main streets and found the 40-year-old vehicle engulfed in flames .

“Vacant cars don’t catch fire on their own,” Trudeau told Postmedia News on Friday. “No one was inside who could have accidentally set it on fire with a lighter or a match – that adds to the suspicion.”

Vancouver police are now investigating, Const. Tania Visintin confirmed on Friday.

The fire left the operator of the unlicensed Healing Wave dispensary, Neil Magnuson, distributing high-dose TCH edibles in the cold to the 268 members of the Cannabis Substitution Project. He says he has been distributing high-dose edibles for five years in an effort to divert residents from contaminated illicit opioids, which are causing more deaths than ever.

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“We are currently very vulnerable, the tent we are operating under is not safe or sustainable for too long,” he said.

Lines form every few days for a free supply of edibles containing 420 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

“It’s going to be tough to keep doing this, but we have to do it or the people at DTES will be badly affected,” Magnuson said.

The dispensary also sells other cannabis produced at a fraction of the cost of regulated weed, due to a list of unlicensed growers who regularly donate to his cause.

However, the company has recently caused problems for Magnuson. On May 11, Vancouver police arrested him in his motorhome and confiscated his stash of cannabis. His now faced drug trafficking charges in provincial court.

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The longtime cannabis advocate wants to be able to offer the drug legally by obtaining a federal exemption from Canadian laws, but has yet to hear from Health Canada after filing an application two years ago.

“We test all the cannabis that comes in, the cookies, the brownies…there’s been no problem.”

Weeks before fire destroyed Magnuson’s RV dispensary, it became a target for crime.

“It has been broken into several times and its side window has been smashed,” he said. “When we encountered someone who was crawling at 2am the next day, he left screaming that he was going to set it on fire.”

Due to circumstances, Magnuson removed his stash of cannabis from the parked vehicle.

He says his biggest challenge now is finding a new place for the Healing Wave to settle.

A previous change to provincial cannabis regulations, which included new penalties for owners of unlicensed cannabis retailers, saw his dispensary kicked out of a DTES storefront in October 2020.

“It’s been stressful and exhausting for a long time for me, I’m doing my best to stay positive,” he said.

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. Police investigate fire engulfed DTES cannabis dispensary van

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